The mainstay of my job at St Kilda is to 'interpret' the islands to our visitors. The Soay sheep are an obvious talking point. No one knows for sure where they originated but it is likely they were placed on the island of Soay, part of the St Kilda Archepelago by Viking seafarers at least 1000 years ago. They would likely have been a self-replenishing larder for hungry seamen. The current flocks of Soays met by visitors to Hirta were placed here in 1932 after the St Kilda evacuation to maintain the grazing, being effectively self-replenishing four legged lawn mowers. Researched by the long running Soay Sheep Project they are an accessible, and uniquely closed, large mammal population studied by generations of natural history students.
Many visitors and a few workers at St Kilda have expressed surprise that the Soays on Hirta are a relatively recent introduction to the island's wildlife. Prior to 1930, the sheep would have been commercial breeds of the day and placed here to be grazed and subsequently taken off for sale, playing their part in the local economy.
(Photo: Western Isles Vintage Postcards)
Predating the arrival of the MOD, these commercial sheep were waiting to be shipped off Hirta in 1930.
As with many things in life, the story behind St Kilda's sheep isn't simply black or white.