of Significance is an evaluation of the significance or
value of St Kilda, both in terms of its heritage values (e.g. natural,
cultural heritage or landscape value) and in terms of the visitor
experience and the social and economic context.
Statement sets out a long-term vision for St Kilda and the
guiding principles that will inform its future management
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is a challenging place to visit because of its remoteness and its
exposure to the ferocity of Atlantic wind and waves. The island
archipelago, formed from the rim of an ancient volcano, is an intensely
dramatic landscape of sheer cliffs and sea stacs of outstanding
natural beauty. This continues underwater with spectacular cliffs,
reefs and caves supporting marine life of almost unparalleled richness
and colour. The sea provides feeding grounds and the cliffs nest
sites for the largest seabird colony in the north-east Atlantic;
the birds themselves formerly providing the main harvest for the
island's small human population. Abandoned by its community in the
evacuation of 1930, St Kilda presents an outstandingly complete
cultural landscape further elucidated by a remarkable quantity of
documentary evidence. St Kilda has long been viewed as a place apart,
a place in thrall to nature, with an isolated people adrift on "the
islands at the edge of the world". We value it today equally
for its natural riches which are dynamic and changing, and for its
cultural heritage, a poignant and powerful reminder of a past way
The following paragraphs set out in more detail our evaluation of
the significance of the place:
St Kilda is
designated as a World Heritage Site (WHS) for its natural heritage
- particularly for its superlative natural features, its habitats
for rare and endangered species and its impressive populations of
seabirds. This designation judges St Kilda to be of outstanding
importance on a global scale and it is the only such Scottish designation.
Other designations confirming the international and national importance
of the natural heritage are National Nature Reserve, Site of Special
Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area and Special Area of
Conservation. The breeding seabird colonies are of such great importance
because they host a very significant proportion of the world population
of some species, including a quarter of all northern gannets. In
European terms it represents certainly the largest colony of many
species including puffins and Leach's petrel.
St Kilda holds
a uniquely favoured position in terms of the north Atlantic marine
heritage because of its remoteness from adverse terrestrial influences
and its proximity to the currents off the continental shelf. In
the surrounding sea, high nutrient input and exceptionally high
wave energy combine to allow deep sunlight penetration and marine
life of exceptional richness. The remarkable clarity of the waters
also has a significant bearing on the extent and distribution of
animals and plants, which include a number of nationally rare species.
St Kilda also has unusually deep kelp forests, sometimes three times
the depth found in other parts of the west coast of Scotland.
natural heritage of the islands is of outstanding national significance
because of its particular vegetation, primarily mosses and lichens,
which show the influence of an extreme maritime climate and because
of the presence of two unique sub-species - the St Kilda wren and
St Kilda field mouse. The Soay sheep (on Hirta and Soay) are a rare
survival of the most primitive breed in Europe closely resembling
the domesticated sheep of Neolithic times and are especially important
for the genetic purity ensured by their isolation.
St Kilda is
an internationally important scientific resource for both seabird
studies and the Soay sheep. The sheep have been the subject of research
ongoing since 1952 into herbivore ecology and genetics, the islands
providing a unique European opportunity to observe a sizable population
of effectively wild, large mammals.
and setting of St Kilda is the defining characteristic of the place
and the point where natural and cultural heritage interests converge.
The archipelago is of outstanding scenic importance and designated
as such (WHS and National Scenic Area) for its natural qualities
of ruggedness, drama, isolation and remoteness heightened by the
constantly changing effects of climate.
topography is just as dramatic, the power of natural forces just
as evident in the caves, gullies and in the wave-induced megaripples
on the sea bed, the deepest so far discovered. Views to the many
sea stacs are breathtaking, emphasised by the seasonal appearance
of thousands of seabirds. Landward there is the contrast of grassy
rounded hilltops, open glens, and on Hirta the great natural amphitheatre
of Village Bay.
and giving scale to it all are the remains of millennia of habitation
by the islanders, in particular the hundreds of cleits scattered
across the islands. The cultural landscape of St Kilda is unique
- shaped by the islanders' relationship with their surroundings
and their sustainable use of the natural resources on offer.
such as buildings, roads, cables and masts can impinge on the feeling
of isolation and landscape quality. But the scale of these installations
is such that they are dwarfed by the scale of the topography and
in aesthetic terms, the significance of the village is emphasised
by its juxtaposition against the base.
The key aspects
of the tangible cultural heritage of St Kilda are the structures
and field systems that provide immediate, visible evidence of aspects
of the past 3 - 4, 000 years of human habitation. Hirta in particular
has a tangible sense of time-depth to its historic landscape. Though
some of the structures are unique to St Kilda (e.g. scree structures
and cleits) it is the totality of the remains, together with their
density in the landscape, which is enhanced by the spectacular natural
setting, that is the key to their significance. Large areas of this
historic environment are designated as Scheduled Ancient Monuments
indicating their high national importance. They are particularly
remarkable for their good state of preservation, their associated
undisturbed buried deposits and, in some instances, their apparent
continuity through time.
The 19th century
was the period of greatest change for the island. An improving landlord
and religious influences combined to reshape Village Bay to the
ordered fan of field boundaries and the associated neatness of Village
Street, which is today the emblematic image of Hirta. In terms of
planned crofting settlements in Scotland, St Kilda ranks as one
of the most spectacular and ambitious, and is one of the best surviving
examples. It is unique in the Western Isles as a planned development
Because of its
remoteness, St Kilda has always been a source of curiosity. Many
travellers' accounts survive, as well as diaries and other documents
written by figures in authority (the landlord or factor, the missionary
or the nurse) rather than the native St Kildans. Such a quantity
of documentation is rare and perhaps unique for a simple rural society,
certainly in a Scottish and perhaps a European context. Place names
on the island reflect both Norse and Gaelic influence and improve
our understanding of the habitation of the islands.
terms the Village Bay settlement holds the soul of St Kilda. There
are many abandoned settlements in the Highlands, but what gives
St Kilda its unique emotional power is the drama and finality of
the evacuation, the impressiveness of what was left behind and the
widely known story of living "on the edge".
significance of base - as military history - assessment currently
to the archipelago remain untouched by the experience of St Kilda,
for most it evokes a powerful, even spiritual, response. Many come
because of a particular interest in the place, others for the recreational
opportunities it affords - it is for example the premier dive location
in Britain. However it is neither cheap nor easy to visit St Kilda
and the logistics are such that only a comparatively small number
will ever have the opportunity to do so at firsthand. For many it
is a lifetime's dream.
can find it difficult to interpret or relate to slight traces of
the past - the active conservation of original structures on Hirta
ensures that the messages from the past are clear and vibrant and
give visitors a real sense of walking into the past. And the ongoing
use of the islands as a natural and cultural laboratory offers equal
potential for formal and informal education opportunities based
on the current research agendas.
Even from a
remote distance the attraction of the place is still powerful and
the potential areas of interest multifarious - desire to access
an experience of the place and information about it is therefore
strong. Intellectual access to St Kilda and its story is provided
in various media, from books and film to the Internet. The growing
number of books still written about the islands is testament to
the degree of interest in the site, providing an audience for these
works. The St Kilda website offers the chance to reach a worldwide
audience and there is huge potential to interpret the islands in
increasingly imaginative ways to the large numbers of people who
access the site.
Since the evacuation,
St Kilda has had no permanent community, though since 1957 Hirta
has had a temporary and/or seasonal population of first army personnel
and then staff at the military base, Trust and SNH staff and scientific
researchers. On the Western Isles, of which St Kilda is a part,
many feel a special bond with St Kilda and there are many other
communities of interest all around the world who feel strongly about
the place, evidenced by the growing membership of the St Kilda Club.
is a great asset to Scotland, its image potentially drawing people
to visit other parts of the country, and its WHS status makes it
certainly the single most important heritage asset in the care of
the Trust. This high heritage profile is not fully realised by the
Trust currently, and the potential is there to spread many messages
about conservation and the Trust through the medium of St Kilda.
it is significant as a moderate economic resource for the western
seaports because of its role as a tourist draw, a destination for
charter boats and cruise ships - many of whom make the majority
of their income from St Kilda - and as a market for the locally-sourced
goods and services required for its upkeep.
St Kilda is the most highly designated place in National Trust for
Scotland ownership and is Scotland's only natural World Heritage
Site. If granted, double World Heritage Site status (marine and
terrestrial natural heritage and cultural landscape) will place
the islands in the top league of internationally important conservation
sites. With the Trust taking over direct management of the Natural
Nature Reserve, it has an opportunity to work with partner organisations
to achieve sympathetic integrated management of all interests of
the island archipelago.
The vision is
therefore to establish St Kilda as an internationally renowned site
for conservation and for sensitive public access and interpretation.
It should benefit from the fullest protection, with agreed mapped
buffer zones around the islands adding to the existing designations
in order to safeguard its features from potential threats arising
from tanker and shipping traffic, oil spill, overfishing, offshore
development and unfettered access. The experience for both the virtual
and actual visitor should be unrivalled with St Kilda established
as a model for environmental education and informed interpretation.
St Kilda will develop a global reputation for responsible and sustainable
management of public interest in a fragile environment, allowing
informed and inspiring access, restricted where necessary on site
to avoid damage to significant features. This vision should be underpinned
by a management structure for the islands that supports on-site
staffing needs, the delivery of integrated conservation advice,
liaison with visitors and the local community and a partnership
approach between the Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic
Scotland and the MoD and its agents.
of St Kilda will be defined by the following principles. They provide
the long-term framework for management and a basis for assessing
and selecting objectives.
Kilda will be managed as a model of integrated conservation management,
where natural and historic interests are balanced together.
the needs of nature conservation and cultural heritage are in opposition,
decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis with reference to
the Trust's Conservation Principles, using the significance of the
features in question to make a judgement and aiming to cause minimum
loss of significance.
Kilda's NNR designation requires that the principal land-use of
the islands will be conservation.
islands and the surrounding seas will be managed for the conservation
of their heritage assets, so as to maintain and enhance the key
features of their major conservation designations - particularly
the NNR, SSSI, SAC, SPA, SAMs and WHS - providing a best practice
example for others to follow.
- For natural
heritage interests, natural processes will normally be allowed to
continue without intervention.
will only be undertaken where it is necessary to protect features
of greater significance from deterioration and any actions taken
should be reversible and give minimum disturbance to significant
features, species and habitats.
- The sheep
of Soay, Hirta and Boreray will continue to be treated as wild and
- For the
marine natural heritage, the same level of protection as that on
land will be sought.
- For cultural
heritage interests, conservation action will proceed on the basis
of minimum intervention required to retain the significance of the
This will allow for a variety of conservation approaches from
recording to consolidation and even repair. This principle takes
account of the need to retain intangibles such as atmosphere and
spiritual significance by arresting decay, as well as respect for
original/authentic fabric. Without the policy of consolidation and
active conservation work to the Village Bay structures much of the
impact and immediacy of these remains would be diluted.
- Any new
development on the islands will only proceed if its effect upon
all aspects of heritage significance are evaluated and judged to
have no or only minimal detrimental effect upon the heritage features
and landscape of the place and if the developments are essential,
temporary and reversible.
It is recognised that some element of development on the island
is inevitable, whether to run conservation operations, to facilitate
access or in regard to the lease to MoD. The aim will be to leave
the significance of the place untouched. All facilities will be
designed and managed to have no negative impact on their environment.
- Scientific research that improves the understanding of the
property in order to guide its management will be encouraged.
Research will be permitted if it can be justified as requiring
the unique opportunities that St Kilda offers, providing that it
is in keeping with NNR and SAM status, does not damage key features
and causes minimum disruption to visitor experience. There will
be a presumption that natural heritage research (including research
on the Soay sheep) will be by observation only. Any other research
will be considered on a case by case basis. Cultural heritage research
by intervention will only be permitted if it is part of the St Kilda
Archaeological Research Plan.
and interpretation programmes will instill a long-lasting appreciation
for both the qualities of this unique site and the importance of
sustainable conservation management at St Kilda and across the globe.
for visitors, whether in person or through interpretive materials
will continue to be provided. Visitor interests will be positively
yet responsibly managed to ensure no negative impact on the islands'
significant features, whilst providing an unrivalled experience
for those who visit.