d.Visitor/tourism pressure

The remoteness, expense of transport, lack of landing facilities, limited accommodation and toilet facilities, water shortages in summer and the total unpredictability of the weather all conspire to impose a limit on visitor numbers. Less than two thousand visit annually, mostly from yachts, charter vessels and a few larger cruise ships. Helicopters, which might offer highly disruptive and dangerous landing opportunities on the other islands and stacks of the archipelago, are prohibited. There is a helipad on Hirta for the regular re-supply helicopters and for emergencies but the only permissible flight path is directly into Village Bay from the sea and out again. Low-flying aircraft over the island are discouraged and minimal and, because of the high possibility of bird-strike, not without considerable risk.

Most visitors come for the St Kilda experience, to enjoy its dramatic scenery, its extraordinary history, and its wonderful wildlife. Divers charter vessels to experience the exciting undersea world around St Kilda’s shores but other recreational activities, such as rock climbing, are discouraged. Disturbance to nesting seabirds and damage to the geology and vegetation of the sea cliffs could result, not to mention the extreme difficulties of executing any cliff rescue. The warden, armed with the bylaws, is an effective ‘policing’ presence and visitor access is difficult and minimal in the winter months.

The ambience and fragility of the grass-covered street in the Village could be spoilt by excessive visitor numbers, but the inaccessibility of the place prevents large number of people from being able to visit and acts as a regulator to visitor pressure. There is no runway on the islands, and helicopter access is almost entirely restricted to official flights; even these can be hampered for days or even weeks at a time by weather conditions –especially high winds, and mist formed by the island's microclimate. The vast majority of visitors must therefore gain access by the sea – either on cruise ships, day-trip boats, yachts, or sea-going canoes. All access by sea is subject to suitable weather conditions, and the tiny pier is not capable of taking vessels much larger than inflatable dinghies. Even if boats manage to get to Village Bay, the often rough conditions may well prevent their passengers from landing. It is therefore not anticipated that visitor numbers will increase significantly over the next few years, in which case the current level of pressure is not considered to be particularly damaging to significant features of the cultural heritage.