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Comments from Benbecula & Harris Public Meeting

Comments made at Benbecula Public Meeting
Comments made at Harris Public Meeting

Report of Comments made at Benbecula Public Meeting

How the evening worked

The first of two local public consultation meetings was held in Benbecula on 31st October 2001. After presentations by National Trust for Scotland staff, attendees (about 40 people) sat at small tables, where they were encouraged to discuss their thoughts on St Kilda with those sat with them - and record them on forms provided . At the end of the evening, the forms were then posted on walls and attendees took time to read other people's ideas and show support by voting with sticky dots - 5 each. This has enabled us to get a sense of how many people share any given point of view and also to assess the weight of opinion.

"What is important about St Kilda?"

We asked participants to tell us what they think are the key features that make St Kilda important. These are the features that were mentioned most often:

· The unique human history/story of the St Kildans
· The relationship between the St Kildan population and the natural environment - the remains of man's struggle to survive in this landscape
· The underwater environment - unique features and ability to see them when diving due to the clear water
· The islands' star quality - an intangible sense of mystique and a valuing of their rare and unspoilt qualities

Other features were singled out as important, e.g. the dramatic landscape of the archipelago, the built remains around the islands and the internationally important natural heritage interest of the site (specific mentions were given to geology, flora and fauna - e.g. birds, mouse, sheep, seabirds).

"Are there any issues to address in the future management of St Kilda?"

We also asked participants to tell us what issues need to be addressed in the management of St Kilda. These are the issues that were mentioned most often:

· We received a strong message from participants of a desire for more interpretation about St Kilda on the Western Isles - e.g. using existing centres across the Hebrides to tell the St Kilda story; using video-links or web cams to give people a remote visit experience; making more use of Gaelic in written and personal interpretation; and exploring St Kilda's place in the wider Gaelic tradition.
· Many also expressed a wish to see more opportunities for people from the Western Isles to visit St Kilda and hoped that the Trust could provide these.
· The underwater environment - unique features and ability to see them when diving due to the clear waterThe introduction of alien species or disease to the islands was seen by a good number of people as one of the key potential threats to St Kilda. More than one person expressed the view that "prevention is better than cure" and an awareness campaign was suggested to ensure that everyone is aware of prevention measures and their importance. Another suggestion was the creation of a gene bank for indigenous races in case of disaster.
· One person suggested that the Soay sheep should be regarded as a domestic species maintained on land owned by the Trust, who should therefore be responsible for their welfare and seek to actively manage the flock with this in mind. Most other participants argued for the maintenance of the current approach - that the sheep have been wild for the last 70 years, are not managed: this allows their unique genetic integrity to be preserved, which naturally regulates disease and population.
· The threat of oil spillage from increased tanker traffic was also seen as a key potential threat to the islands.


Report of Comments made at Harris Public Meeting

A second public meeting was held on Harris on 13 December. Again, attendees were asked to tell us what they think is important about St Kilda and what issues they feel need to be addressed in the management of the property.

"What is important about St Kilda?"

· The unique lifestyle and story of the St Kildans
· Remoteness - the mystery and isolation of the islands; a chance for visitors to feel isolated from the modern world
· Richness and diversity of underwater wildlife
· Seabirds - instantly reognisable symbols of St Kilda
· Important to local fisherman for lobster and crab fishing from May until August as part of a 12 month rotating fishing programme to coincide with seasonal shellfish casting patterns.
· Historical connections to Harris and continuing links today
· Important for the lessons to be learnt today about the survival of communities - how can we apply this to our own communities today?

"Are there any issues of concern to address in the future management of St Kilda?"

· More than one person felt that many people who live on Harris would welcome the opportunity to visit St Kilda and that regular trips from Harris would be one way to achieve this. There was also a view that access is too restricted at present, with only the wealthy able to make the trip and others left feeling excluded. It was suggested that subsidised boats trips from North Harris might be organised - for local people and for school children - and also more trips for disadvantaged youngsters from across the country.
· There was support for the current treatment of the Soay sheep, backed by a belief that population crashes and sheep deaths are simply part of the natural pattern of their wild existence, and that this is in fact an opportunity to educate visitors about such natural processes.
· More than one person was concerned about oil pollution, particularly the risk from tanker traffic. A preference was expressed for keeping tankers far away from St Kilda.
· Concern that the marine SAC would exclude fishing. The fishermen present advised that they work pots, which are non-destructive, and return undersized shellfish to the sea, live on site. Others who commented on fishing shared this view that such non-destructive fishing activity was not a threat to St Kilda's marine heritage, and felt that the other destructive methods (e.g. trawling) should not be allowed.
· The point was made that steps could be taken to present a more positive view of religious life on St Kilda and the contentedness of the islanders.
· Support for establishing interpretation about St Kilda on the Western Isles and the view given that this should take account of Harris/North Harris input and emphasise the links between here and St Kilda. The use of Gaelic was considered essential, although this should be more than tokenism.
· A desire to see a National Trust for Scotland presence on the Western Isles - it was envisaged that there was a role here to provide information for local people, to raise the profile of the islands and of the Trust, to give talks to local groups and provide opportunities for on-the-ground liaison with local contacts - e.g. fisherman.


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