d.Criteria under which inscription is proposed (and justification for inscription under those criteria)

Natural Heritage

The natural heritage of the St Kilda archipelago is multifaceted and complies with all aspects of the interpretation of ‘natural heritage’ as presented in the UNESCO World Heritage Operational Guidelines 1999, Para. 43:

  • ‘natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;
  • geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation;
  • natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.’

This nomination satisfies criteria 44 (a) (i) - (iv) of the UNESCO Operational Guidelines of 1999 in that World Heritage properties must meet one or more of the following criteria:

44 (a) (i) ‘be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features’;

The St Kilda archipelago illustrates ongoing geomorphic processes in the coastal and submarine environments. The combined terrestrial/marine landscape is unique within the Palaearctic Realm. St Kilda is globally significant in terms of the physiographic features of the archipelago and the significant ongoing geological and geomorphological processes that have created, and continue to influence, the terrestrial and marine landforms and physiographic features.

44 (a) (ii) ‘be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals’;

The terrestrial biology of the St Kilda archipelago provides an outstanding example of remote island ecological colonisation and subsequent genetic divergence under isolation. It is unique within the Palaearctic Realm and is significant at the global level. The seabed communities surrounding the islands are outstanding in terms of biodiversity and composition and the marine area plays an essential role in the ecological support of the seabird colonies.

44 (a) (iii) ‘contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance’;

The sea cliffs of the archipelago, set in a remote offshore location, with the sights and sounds of one million seabirds at the height of their breeding season, make St Kilda a very special place in terms of natural phenomena, natural beauty and aesthetic quality.

St Kilda is currently inscribed on the World Heritage List on the basis of criterion (iii).

44 (a) (iv) ‘contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation';

St Kilda's seabird communities are unique within the Palaearctic Realm and are also globally significant in terms of their size and diversity. The sea areas around the islands are important and significant for conservation of these seabird colonies. The terrestrial habitats are important and significant for the conservation of species (land birds, small mammals) that have adapted to the conditions on the islands, and for the remnant populations of Neolithic sheep. The seabed communities surrounding the islands are outstanding in terms of biodiversity and composition. St Kilda is currently inscribed on the World heritage List on the basis of criteria (iv).

Cultural Criteria

St Kilda also fits with three of the cultural criteria defined by UNESCO (UNESCO World Heritage Operational Guidelines 1999, Para. 24):

24 (a) (iii) the islands bear an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition which has now disappeared, namely the reliance on bird products as the main source of sustenance and livelihood and of the crofting way of life in Highland Scotland. St Kilda also represents subsistence economies everywhere – living in harmony with nature until external pressures led to inevitable decline;

24 (a) (iv) the village is an outstanding example of a type of building ensemble or landscape, which illustrates a significant stage in the human history of Scotland; the establishment of crofting townships and land allotment, and the restructuring of communities by remote higher authorities which often led to the mass emigration of Scots and establishment of Scottish enclaves around the world;

24 (a) (v) similarly, the village and associated remains are the most complete example of a traditional human settlement and land-use which is representative of 19th-century rural Highland Scottish culture which, in 1930, became the victim of irreversible change.

Cultural Landscape

‘Cultural landscapes often reflect specific techniques of sustainable land-use, considering the characteristics and limits of the natural environment they are established in, and a specific spiritual relation to nature. Protection of cultural landscapes can contribute to modern techniques of sustainable land-use and can maintain or enhance natural values in the landscape.’ (UNESCO World Heritage Operational Guidelines 1999, Para. 38).

There are two strands to the cultural landscape of St Kilda. The first falls under UNESCO Cultural Landscapes Category i: the planned settlement which now surrounds Village Bay is a clearly defined landscape designed and created intentionally by man. Rather than consciously being designed for aesthetic reasons, however, the village was created in the early 1830s as a deliberate attempt to ‘improve’ the social and economic use of the island’s agricultural resources, in line with similar initiatives elsewhere in the Scottish Highlands.

However, the mid-19th-century pattern of the village is the endpoint (and counterpoint) what was until then an organically evolved landscape (Cultural Landscapes Category ii). This landscape developed both physically and spiritually, inextricably in response to its natural environment over 5,000 or more years. The St Kilda archipelago is particularly well described by sub-category ‘a’ of Cultural Landscape Category ii: a fossil landscape in which an evolutionary process abruptly came to an end at some time in the past: the actions of the 1830s fossilized the earlier settlement and boundary patterns; whilst the evaucation of the 1930s and subsequent history have resulted in the fossilization of most of those of the mid-19th century. Many of its significant evolutionary features are, however, still visible in material form, and the village and other features have been preserved since coming into the ownership of the NTS.