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29 Jul 2022

From the edge of the world 2022 – part 6

Written by Sue Loughran, St Kilda ranger
A group of people stand around a fire in a large barrel on top of a cliff. It is dusk. The people are all wrapped up in coats and hats.
Celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on St Kilda
Having just returned from a short summer break, I’m feeling like I’ve been away from the islands for such a long time. I had been been on St Kilda from late March until mid-June, and so returning to the mainland took a fair bit of adjustment, not least marvelling at the enormous size of domesticated sheep on the Outer Hebrides compared with our little Soays!

The sensory onslaught of people, traffic, media and even trees is initially a bit overwhelming after the relative simplicity of island life. However, the joy of seeing family and friends, sharing stories, and seeing a massive change in the seasons since early spring, all serve to deepen my appreciation for this job and for my support at home.

Back on St Kilda, we have now swung into full season for visitors, wildlife and restoration work. We have had great help from volunteers, and we have welcomed film crews, photographers, scientists, researchers, craftspeople, campers and day visitors. In June, the whole island participated in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations with a fantastic beacon at the top of an extremely windy Ruibhal. On the next day, we had probably the westernmost street party and barbecue in the UK, with everyone enjoying the sunshine and the chance to relax.

Being the only people who stay on the island for such long periods of time, we see a huge turnover of visitors and staff. No two weeks (actually, no two days!) are the same. The mix of people is constantly changing and the season consists of lots of memorable events that have been really enjoyable. Two of these visitors were Ann and Iain who chose to tie the knot in our church, complete with their celebrant and witness. We were delighted to be a part of their big day and wish them every happiness in their future lives together!

I’ve noticed that spontaneity is very much a feature and a joy of island life, such as the offer of a wonderful evening trip around Hirta and across to Boreray and the Stacs. Who wouldn’t accept?! Seeing our island home from the sea is startling. We find ourselves viewing the incredibly steep mountainsides where we’ve carried out Manx shearwater surveys, or looking at the Gap, from an utterly different perspective.

On crossing to Boreray, we noticed there were markedly less bonxies (great skuas). Last year, we witnessed many harrying the gannets to give up their fish catches; this year, we saw hardly any of this behaviour. It is sadly bearing out the fact that avian flu is having a highly negative impact upon the seabird population on Hirta.

We have had to take several measures to minimise the risk of transferring avian flu to humans or other bird species. Since most visitors do not access the breeding seabird colonies, we have been able to keep Hirta open. If you visit the island this year, you will be asked to walk through the disinfectant mat on arrival and departure, wash your hands and refrain from touching dead birds. We will also advise where to avoid walking on the island, in order to minimise risk. All our scientific work involving handling of birds has had to stop, and we are constantly monitoring the situation as it unfolds.

Read more about our response to the avian flu outbreak

A silhouette of a seabird as it flies over the sea towards the dark outline of the St Kilda cliffs. The sky is a pale orange as the sun sets. Many puffins bob on the water below.
We have noticed a marked decrease in seabird numbers this year.

Whilst the rest of the UK has recently been reporting heatwave conditions, we have certainly not been experiencing the same! We have had extremely changeable weather so far this season, but this has not diminished people’s will to visit, and we frequently have an array of vessels in the bay. These two photos below were taken just a couple of days apart!

From the edge of the world

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