The Angry Corrie 54: Jul-Aug 2002
"These are my principles. If you don't like them..." No.2
There has been much recent debate in these pages about access to the St Kilda islands and stacks - heavily controlled and restricted by Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Trust for Scotland. TAC has received some interesting comments from an informed source who prefers to remain anonymous. Note that the comments are made in the context of a proposed climbing/bagging visit in mid-September - earlier in the season the situation with regard to access-conflict would be very different due to the presence of nesting birds.
Here, first in general and then on an island-by-island basis, is what our informant has to say:
Only one species of St Kilda bird is on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act: Leach's petrel. These nest in very small burrows under rocks and in holes in walls etc and only visit land at night, and there is no conflict with climbers for this species. None of the St Kilda bird species are listed in the Red Data Book; Leach's petrel is on the amber list, along with most other seabirds.
Generally, seabird colonies are subjected to considerable stress and disturbance every year by ringing parties, many of which have no specific scientific aim and contribute little to the conservation of the species concerned in comparison to the disturbance they cause. The number of birds on St Kilda is staggering, and a small party of climbers possibly disturbing a handful on an occasional basis is really insignificant in the overall scheme of things.
Puffins are the main issue - the summit ridge is honeycombed with hundreds of fragile burrows. It is almost inevitable that people will accidentally put a foot through one or more on any ascent, probably causing injury/death to any chicks inside at the time. Also, the loss of burrows from trampling in such a fragile environment may be a long-term issue. However, Dun has been climbed regularly by wardens etc so shouldn't cause a problem if care is taken around the colony.
Stac Lee, Stac an Armin
Fulmars: very common, having expanded massively during the 20th century.
Gannets: a few birds would still be present to mid-September, at which time the risk of conflict between climbers and young gannets is minimal. Conflict would however be very high from mid-July until the end of August.
Conachair (Hirta), Soay, Boreray
No particular bird problems envisaged late in the season, from late-July onwards. Puffin colonies on these islands are avoidable.
"If firm arrangements are made to visit [St Kilda] you must inform the National Trust for Scotland, Lochvoil House, Dunuaran Road, Oban, PA34 4AL who will in turn inform the seasonal warden of any intended visits." From the NTS/SNH management plan for St Kilda. See http://www.kilda.org.uk/ManPlan.htm
The warden will, on current form, object to any climbing/walking-related visits to outlying islands and stacks, while heavily restricting movement on Hirta itself. Justification? Disturbance to gannets and other birds.
"[Sula Sgeir] is on the green list [National Nature Reserves that will remain as such], but North Areas Board had outstanding concerns about whether the guga hunt on Sula Sgeir (a harvest of 2000 young gannets, licensed by SERAD), was compatible with primacy of nature. A paper was presented to the Areas Board showing that gannet numbers on Sula Sgeir had increased despite the harvest." From the September 2000 Review of National Nature Reserves, published on the SNH website - see http://www.snh.org.uk/search-snh/about/docs/item10.doc (See also http://www.reidio.com/fios29.htm for pictures of the 1999 "harvest" of young gannets, or gugas.)
Sula Sgeir and St Kilda come under the common heading of remote rocky lumps in the North Atlantic, but somehow it seems OK for large numbers of gannets to be systematically killed on Sula Sgeir but not for climbers with no interest in harming birds to peacefully visit the gannet colonies on St Kilda, even at those times of year when the birds aren't actually there.