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St Kilda Today

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 50th Anniversary for the National Trust for Scotland on St Kilda

  Managing St Kilda 

St Kilda was bequeathed to The National Trust for Scotland by the 5th Marquess of Bute in 1957. In the same year, it was designated a National Nature Reserve by the Nature Conservancy (now Scottish Natural Heritage). Just before his death, the Marquess of Bute agreed to lease a small area of land on Hirta to the Ministry of Defence as a radar tracking station for its missile range on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. (The lease was renewed in 1976 for a further 25 years.)

Today, these three organisations, The National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and MoD, work in partnership to further a continuing programme of conservation and research on the islands and to ensure the care and protection of this World Heritage Site.

St Kilda has received many national and international designations in recognition of its outstanding natural and cultural heritage.

Designation List

The Village Street
Photograph: National Trust for Scotland

Managing St Kilda

 The National Trust for Scotland
 Scottish Natural Heritage
  Ministry of Defence

     The National Trust for Scotland

The Trust has a responsibility to ensure the permanent preservation of the islands for the benefit of the nation, as set out in the enabling legislation - the National Trust for Scotland Order Confirmation Acts of 1935 and 1938. This extends to the natural, cultural and landscape heritage of the islands. Also, in 1986 St Kilda was designated by UNESCO as Scotland's first World Heritage Site. This designation confers an international obligation on the Trust to ensure that the natural heritage of the islands is protected and preserved.

From 1957 to 2003 management of the island was delegated to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and was managed under a partnership agreement between the NTS, SNH and the MoD. This changed in September 2003 when the Trust was granted ‘Approved Status’ by SNH to manage the National Nature Reserve directly.

The partnership approach to managing the islands continues, and has been expanded to include Historic Scotland, QinetiQ (agents for MoD) and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – the Western Isles Council. Representatives of all the partnership organisations meet regularly to make both strategic and operational decisions about the management of St. Kilda. The Trust also appoints a seasonal ranger and an archaeologist, with financial assistance from SNH and Historic Scotland respectively.

Under the enabling legislation, the Trust ensures there are opportunities for access to and enjoyment of its properties by the public where possible. Given the difficulty in getting to St Kilda, the Trust provides opportunities for access through its work party programme. Other visitors to the islands arriving by their own means are welcome, although numbers must be monitored because of the sensitivity of the natural and cultural heritage of the islands, and management carried out where necessary to ensure impacts on the heritage of the islands are minimised. The Trust is also working to provide opportunities for greater understanding and appreciation of St Kilda, not only for those who reach the islands, but also for the wider population who may not be able to visit.

For information on all aspects of St Kilda not addressed by this website, please contact:

The National Trust for Scotland
Western Isles Manager
Balnain House
40 Huntly Street

Tel:  01463 232 034

The opening of the museum in House 3, 1982
Photograph: Glasgow Museums

The National Trust for Scotland is not a government department, but an independent charity supported by its membership. Please support our work by visiting our properties, making a donation, or arranging a legacy. You can also help us by becoming a member of the Trust. By joining you will gain free admission to all of our properties, and help give Scotland's heritage - including St Kilda - a secure future.

For more information, visit our main website:

or contact us at:

The National Trust for Scotland
Hermiston Quay
5 Cultins Rd
EH11 4DF
Tel: +44 (0)131 458 0200
From outside the UK:
Tel: +44 (0)131 458 0303

      Scottish Natural Heritage

St Kilda is one of 71 National Nature Reserves (NNRs) in Scotland. There are huge seabird colonies (including the largest colony of North Atlantic gannets in the world) on St Kilda. The sheep, fieldmice and wrens on the island are unique. Recent studies by SNH have further highlighted the wealth of marine life around the archipelago. It is the function of NNRs to safeguard these features (together with the interesting botanical, geological, archaeological and cultural interests), and also to promote good management, research and public enjoyment. Visitor numbers rarely exceed 2000 people a year so threats to the NNR are mainly from marine pollution and from the introduction of alien plants and animals. Boats must land passengers and equipment by dinghy, to avoid the risk of rats or mink reaching the islands; dogs are not permitted ashore to protect the sheep and bird colonies, and to prevent the introduction of sheep parasites (see advice to Visitors).

The designations in which SNH are directly involved are the National Scenic Area, the Site of Special Scientific Interest (under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act), the Special Protection Area (under the European Birds Directive), the proposed Special Area of Conservation (under the European Directive on Habitats and Species) and of course the World Heritage Site. St Kilda is also a Geological Review Site and a Marine Consultation Area while most of the buildings and archaeological remains are Scheduled Ancient Monuments. In October 2003 the management of St Kilda NNR passed from SNH to the NTS.(See News). The Area Office at Stilligarry in South Uist still fulfils SNH’s various statutory functions for St Kilda.

SNH has produced a set of posters/postcards, a bilingual colour leaflet about the National Nature Reserve and a short video in both English and Gaelic about the marine life, all of which are available from the NTS or direct from SNH.

Scottish Natural Heritage
South Uist
United Kingdom
Tel: (+44) 01870 620238

St Kilda boasts the largest colony of North Atlantic gannets in the world

Photograph: Jim Vaughan

Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence Site on Hirta was established in 1957 as a radar tracking station for the missile range in Benbecula, Outer Hebrides. The site is now run by QinetiQ for the Ministry of Defence, and is staffed by civilian workers employed by Qinetiq, Amey and ESS. The base is manned throughout the year by about 15 staff and provides an infrastructure of power, water supply, logistics transport and medical aid. This facilitates the work of the conservation bodies on the islands.

The QinetiQ site
Photograph: Calum Ferguson

© The National Trust for Scotland