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14th July 2005

Dual World Heritage Status For Unique Scottish Islands

St Kilda, owned and managed by The National Trust for Scotland, has become one of only two-dozen global locations to be awarded World Heritage Status for both natural and cultural significance. The remote Hebridean Islands share this honour with natural and cultural wonders such as the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru, Mount Athos in Greece and the Ukhahlamba/Drakensberg Park in South Africa.

Following the preparation of an extended Comparative Analysis, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, meeting in Durban, South Africa, has accepted the extension to the existing marine and terrestrial natural heritage World Heritage inscriptions. The inscription will now include the 'cultural landscape' left by thousands of years of human occupation. The Comparative Analysis was prepared on behalf of the UK Government by The National Trust for Scotland, with support from Historic Scotland.

Already acknowledged for its magnificent physical beauty and its biological character, St Kilda has now been inscribed as a cultural record of a lost crofting community that once lived on what has been described as "the edge of the world". The remoteness of the islands - 64 kilometres west of the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland - and the limited human interference over 5 millennia means it represents a highly authentic example of a way of life, now lost.

UK Culture Minister David Lammy said:

"The human heritage of St Kilda makes it a unique and mysterious place. It is right that this cultural significance be recognised alongside its natural environment, and I am delighted that UNESCO have added this to its World Heritage inscription."

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport in Scotland, Patricia Ferguson said:

"I am delighted that the World Heritage Committee has recognised the cultural importance of St Kilda at its annual meeting in Durban. The extended inscription on the World Heritage list recognises the outstanding universal value of the cultural as well as the natural environment of St Kilda. The story of St. Kilda is unique. For more than 5000 years a community survived on these remote, inhospitable islands. Their achievement and the quality of evidence that remains are recognised in this important accolade."

Robin Pellew, Chief Executive for the National Trust for Scotland said:

"What makes St Kilda so significant in cultural terms is that it provides evidence of how people lived and evolved since prehistoric times. It helps us to understand how people survived in extremely difficult and remote conditions over thousands of years. It is truly a unique and fascinating place."
"Evidence has been found which confirms people have lived on St Kilda for more than 2000 years and visited as many as 5000 years ago," said Robin Turner, the Trust's Head of Archaeology, commenting from Durban. "By investigating the many layers of undisturbed remains, we are constantly making important discoveries about how these people lived, worked and died."
"In preparing the new Comparative Analysis for the World Heritage Committee we were able to show that the cultural heritage of these islands truly is unique. Some places share some of St Kilda's outstanding characteristics, but nowhere comes close to matching them all: there is nowhere in the world like it."

St Kilda also has an extraordinary wealth of documentary evidence, dating from the 15th century onwards, including literature, songs, poetry and folklore telling the stories of every day life on the islands.

The Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Mr. Alex MacDonald, said:

"I am delighted that St Kilda in the Western Isles has been awarded this major accolade of mixed World Heritage inscription for both its cultural and natural qualities. St Kilda is a very special place for many reasons but it has a particular place in the hearts and minds of the people of the Western Isles. Descendants of those who lived and worked on these islands continue to live in other parts of the Western Isles and they retain that direct link to the important culture, heritage and history emanating from St Kilda. That history is a poignant one and one that still resonates as the islands continue to struggle with depopulation."
"The Council hopes that this important accolade will ensure that the St Kilda cultural and natural assets will be available for future generations to enjoy and benefit from. The Council wishes to take advantage of this auspicious occasion to thank all the agencies, who have worked towards this goal and especially the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for appreciating the unique world importance of the site. St Kilda offers much from the past to the people of the Western Isles. It also offers much for the future."

ENDS

For more information please contact:
Francoise van Buuren, NTS Corporate Communications Manager on (0131) 243 9384
Nigel Scott, PR Officer for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (01851) 709389
Isla Macleod, Corporate Communications Manager, Historic Scotland (0131) 668 8852

EDITORS’ NOTES:

WHS Key Facts:

The World Heritage List was established by the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted in November 1972 at the 17th General Conference of UNESCO. The Convention states that a World Heritage Committee 'will establish, keep up-to-date and publish' a World Heritage List of cultural and natural properties, submitted by the States Parties and considered to be of 'outstanding universal value'. As of July 2004, the number of properties on the World Heritage List is 788. For more information visit: http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31

St Kilda Key Facts:

St Kilda Archipelago is a remote Atlantic Island group lying 64km west of the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. Part of the parish of Harris in the Western Isles it consists of four main islands - Hirta, Soay, Boreray and Dun; 3 sea stacs - Stac an Armin, Stac Lee and Levenish; and a great number of smaller stacs and skerries.

The population living at Village Bay on Hirta is believed to have peaked at around 200 residents, but when it was evacuated on 29th August 1930, only 36 people lived on the islands. 29th August 2005 is the 75th anniversary of the islands evacuation. To mark this anniversary and the Dual World Heritage Status an exhibition of photographs and items from St Kilda will be shown in the NTS Gallery in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh during the month of August. The exhibition will provide an excellent impression of what life on St Kilda must have been like in the early 1900s.

Owned by MacLeod of Harris & Dunvegan until 1931, St Kilda was sold to the Earl of Dumfries who later became the 5th Marquess of Bute. He retained the islands, unoccupied and managed as a bird sanctuary, until his death in 1956 and in 1957 the islands came into the care of The National Trust for Scotland. From 1958 onwards, NTS volunteer work parties have visited annually restoring a number of the historic buildings for use by visitors, volunteers and researchers, as well as maintaining the ruined structures and assisting with archaeological excavations. Today around 1750 people visit St Kilda every year.

St Kilda is managed by The National Trust for Scotland in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Ministry of Defence and its agents QinetiQ. For more information please visit: http://www.kilda.org.uk or http://www.hiort.org.uk.

List of Designations include:

  • World Heritage Site for its natural characteristics - in 1986 (terrestrial) and 2004 (marine), and in particular for its superlative natural features, its habitats for rare and endangered species, and its internationally important population of seabirds.
  • Special Protection Area (1992) placing an obligation on the UK Government to maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats for all species of wild birds naturally occurring in their European territories.
  • National Nature Reserve (1957) for its national importance as a site that can be managed in the long-term for the primacy of nature.
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest (1984) for its biological features, notably its marine grassland and heath, peatland, open water and coastland, its bird life and for its indigenous species of wren, field mouse and Soay sheep.
  • National Scenic Area (1981) for its outstanding scenic value and beauty in a national context.
  • Marine Consultation Area (1990) one of 29 in Scotland for its special distinction in respect of the quality and sensitivity of its marine environment and where scientific information substantiates its nature conservation importance.
  • Geological Conservation Review Site (1984) under three different subject headings: tertiary igneous geology; quarternary geology; and its coastal geomorphology.
  • Scheduled Ancient Monuments (1963, 1972, 2002) four major areas on Hirta were scheduled by Historic Scotland for the national importance of their archaeology. They comprise diverse and well-preserved multi-period remains of settlement on St Kilda, structures that date from prehistory through to the early 20th century. The remains have the potential to provide important information about life on St Kilda through the millennia, an extreme existence that was, and continues to be, of enormous interest to Scottish and international observers who documented the life of inhabitants from early times.

© The National Trust for Scotland