North Rona – ‘the Distant Isle’

Although much smaller in scale (only 120ha in extent pageand 107m at the highest point), with much less spectacular topography, the island of North Rona bears some similarities to St Kilda. It is owned by Barvas Estate but managed since 1956 by Scottish Natural Heritage as a National Nature Reserve. Extremely remote, and with a heavy reliance on fowling, the small community on North Rona lived in a cluster of houses of medieval origin, adjacent to a chapel dating from the 7th or 8th century . The village was not affected by the early 19th-century fashion for restructuring, largely because the island has been deserted since 1844. This makes the remains of particular interest in terms of Scottish medieval or later rural settlement studies.

Monastic Cell, North RonaNorth Rona has 14 species of seabirds, against St Kilda’s 17, lacking northern gannet and Manx shearwater and Arctic skua but having about a dozen pairs of Arctic terns. There are some 3,500 pairs of northern fulmars and the same number of black-legged kittiwakes, several thousand common guillemots and Atlantic puffins, fewer razorbills, gulls and storm-petrels (both European and Leach’s), and about 150 pairs of European shags. No more than 20 pairs of great skua breed, hemmed in by a colony of almost 1,000 pairs of great black-backed gulls. With more space the great skuas of St Kilda have increased in the same time period to about 170 pairs. Despite its tiny size, North Rona has the same number of breeding landbirds as St Kilda. It has no small mammals but, with a third of its area being a low-lying peninsula, some 1,100 grey seal pups are born every autumn – very many more than on the cliff-bound coast of St Kilda.

Due to its small size North Rona has been well surveyed for plants and it is not surprising perhaps that it is scant in species compared with St Kilda. Amongst lower plants for instance, 87 species of lichens have been recorded (compared with 194 for St Kilda); only eight liverworts and 14 mosses (compared with 56 and 104 respectively for St Kilda).