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14 Sep 2021

From the edge of the world 2021 – part 4

Written by Sue Loughran, Ranger
A puffin sits on a lichen-covered rock, with several fish hanging out of its beak.
Puffin, St Kilda
The seasons are passing by quickly, and suddenly we seem to be facing the end of our work programme here on the island. This time, I take a look at the changes we’ve seen recently and share a bit more about what we’ve been up to.

It seems like no time since we started in mid-April, with the whole summer stretching ahead of us. Now the puffins are leaving (or have already left); the St Kilda wrens have fallen silent; the bonxies are less terrifying in their interactions with humans (now that their young have grown); young Arctic skuas soar overhead; and there is a change in the light, which seems to hint at autumnal days ahead.

The work on the Qinetiq/MOD base on Hirta (on land leased from the National Trust for Scotland) is progressing towards completion. In 2019, the original MOD buildings were demolished, and new accommodation and a silent generator were constructed. The new buildings have turf roofs, which have grown well over the last two years. They even looked like a promising nest site for snipe this year! As a consequence of the reduction in light pollution from the new building (and possibly also the lack of generator noise), we have experienced no attraction of pufflings to the new build so far. We check around the buildings every morning before dawn to ensure that no birds have become grounded or accidentally trapped. This is a significant reduction on previous years’ records, so is excellent news for the chicks.

A close-up shot of a puffin facing the camera with its white belly and brightly coloured beak. It carries several fish in its beak.
A happy puffin!

This year, the island has had a demolition team on shore, to carry out work delayed on the Qinetiq base from 2020; namely, the removal of non-native concrete foundations. The foundations have been regularly shipped off by the landing craft the Maursand two or three times per week. The land between the Manse and the new MOD base is currently being cleared of temporary portacabins, and this area will be fenced off for several years to allow the ground to reseed naturally. This, combined with some sensitive landscaping, should facilitate the area returning visually to as close to pre-1950s Hirta as possible. The contractors have worked hard to get the demolition and re-profiling finished. The noise of large plant moving around the island and breaking up the old concrete won’t be missed (especially when trying to welcome visitors and give the intro talk!), but the friendship and camaraderie of the contractors certainly will be.

Never a dull moment on St Kilda! On one day recently, we had a cruise ship visiting (now that Scotland has eased restrictions), our regular day boats arrived, the St Kilda Club honesty shop took bumper sales and we were swimming amongst the bioluminescence off the jetty in the early hours of the morning (the darkest part of the night). Together with assisting the Soay Sheep Research Project catch (we acted as human sheepdogs around Village Bay), it’s beginning to feel like an extended version of the Olympics – St Kilda style!

From the edge of the world

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A group of people standing on the jetty on Hirta, St Kilda >