May 2021 talk
St Kilda & the Hebrides - cruising to the edge of the world

 
Our final Zoom talk of 2021 was given by NatureTrek guide, Sara Frost, who ensured our season ended on a high.

Over 50 screens joined the talk raising another £270 in aid of Avon Wildlife Trust.
The culmination of a very successful Zoom season!

Thanks to everyone who joined us for one or more of our talks.

Entitled “Cruising to the edge of the world”, Sara gave a vivid and  evocative account of a 10 day cruise from Oban in Western Scotland to St Kilda, a remote cluster of 3 main islands, 40 miles North West of the rest of the Outer Hebrides. Formed 55 million years ago from a volcano, St Kilda is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland for the benefit of the wealth of wildlife found there. It became one of Scotland's six World Heritage Sites in 1986, and is one of the few in the world to hold joint status for both its natural and cultural qualities. Parties of volunteers work on the islands in the summer to restore the many ruined buildings that the native St Kildans left behind in 1930, following a total evacuation of the islands. They share the island with a small military base established in 1957.

Sara described some of the marine wildlife on the cruise along Loch Sunart, including porpoises and dolphins. Although similar, adult porpoises are about 1.5m long, whereas dolphins can be twice that length, with a higher curved dorsal fin and more pointed “beak”.


Basking shark and sea otters are often seen around the islands.
As well as white-tailed “sea” eagles, populations recovering after being hunted to extinction in 1918, and reintroduced to the Islands of Rhum and Eigg in 1975. Their importance to ecotourism cannot be overstated, estimated at £5 million per year on Mull, & £2.4 million annually on Skye.

The Islands themselves are spectacular, with high cliffs and sea stacks, battered and eroded by North Atlantic waves. Conachair is a vertical cliff over 400m high, falling sheer into the sea and the highest sea cliff in the UK. These cliffs are summer home to huge numbers of breeding seabirds...

... including fulmars, gannets, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins. Nationally, fulmar and kittiwake populations have been in sharp decline, possibly because sand eels, an important prey item, are found deeper in the water due to rising sea water temperatures. Hence, St Kilda is a vital stronghold for them.
St Kilda also has 2 endemic sub-species, the St Kilda wren and St Kilda field mouse, and 2 different early sheep types have survived on these remote islands, the Soay, a Neolithic type, and the Boreray, an Iron Age type. 
Life was tough for the St Kildans, no wonder they eventually left their islands for a slightly easier mainland life!


The talk stimulated some interesting questions, such as do St Kildans have bigger feet? The question is answered in the photo showing a normal foot compared to a St Kildans.  And the reason? Because to survive on these islands, generations of St Kildans spent their time descending the cliffs to hunt seabirds, gripping the rocks with their bare feet, developing strong, wide feet as a result of this practice!



Although the cost of the 10 day cruise is close to £3000, Sara convinced us that it would be worth every penny to anyone passionate about nationally rare, magnificent wildlife.
 

Report by Dave Sage

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Keynsham Group
Avon Wildlife Trust
Registered charity 280422

Email: keynshamawt@gmail.com