Cultural Heritage

The most important cultural qualities of St Kilda are: the comprehensive and integral nature of its 19th-century settlement remains, the last period of an occupation extending back thousands of years; the spectacular landscape setting; the perceived remoteness of the islands which helps create a vivid story of human endeavour; and the wealth of documentary evidence from the 16th century to the time of abandonment.

St Kilda (on the far horizon) from Rodel in the Sound of Harris

Dr J Morton Boyd (Director, Scotland, The Nature Conservancy Council, 1971-1985) has observed how ‘the Hebrides do not occupy a grand plinth in scientific history as do the Galapagos, but, like all other archipelagos, they have their own endowment of nature and well-kept secrets to be discovered and enjoyed. The Galapagos are celebrated for their biology, but their geology is far less illustrious than that of the Hebrides’. His colleague Professor, R J Berry, eloquently concluded: ‘The physical tides that have caressed and pounded the Western Isles have biological parallels: waves of animals and plants have beaten on the islands and formed their biological environment in the same way that the waves of rock, ice and water have determined their geographical limits.

And just as the physical waves have laws which must be obeyed, so the interactions of drift, migration, and selection have forged the genetic constitution of the island races; and as the incoming tide cleans the sands and rocks over which it passes, but leaves unexplained features in secluded eddies, so the biological tides have left us with many genetical puzzles, the scientist believes as an article of faith that these eddies can be explained as knowledge accumulates, though some will remain as statistical anomalies of history.’ St Kilda, an outlier of the Hebrides, is the extreme expression of these geological and biological processes.