You are here: Designations List > Marine Environment Gains World Heritage Status

2nd July 2004


St Kilda World Heritage Site has today been extended to include the surrounding marine environment.

The remote cluster of rocky islands, 64 km west of the Outer Hebrides, was first designated a World Heritage site in 1986 for its landscape and the wildlife it supports. Today’s designation extends the status to include the marine environment, resulting in a Site of some 225 square kilometres with the islands at the centre.

The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Committee met in Souzhou, China, this week to discuss nominations. The application to extend the St Kilda site was accompanied by a bid to include recognition of the islands’ cultural record of a lost crofting community. This application was deferred until more comparative information can be supplied to the World Heritage Committee.

Welcoming the announcement, Deputy Environment Minister, Allan Wilson said:

“The extension of this site to include the surrounding marine environment affords greater recognition to what is a unique landscape. While the island archipelago is spectacular and home to variety of rare bird species, it is only recently that the quality of the underwater natural heritage has been fully appreciated.
“A lot of effort has gone into highlighting the case for these islands and, more especially, into protecting and enhancing their environmental and cultural strengths. The new designation is recognition of the world importance of the natural heritage of St Kilda and its surrounding area. I very much hope that similar recognition can be secured for the cultural landscape.”

Scottish Natural Heritage Chief Executive, Ian Jardine, said:

"I think this is a great decision! St Kilda is a very special place - that has been recognised by its designation as a World Heritage Site for almost 20 years. Extending that designation draws world attention to Scotland's wonderful marine natural heritage which we can use to promote the value of our marine heritage to a global audience."

Robin Pellew, Chief Executive for the National Trust for Scotland said:

“Whilst we are disappointed that the decision relating to the cultural aspects of the site has been deferred until next year, the extension to include the marine environment is an important decision to help protect the natural environment surrounding the islands. The shores and sea-bed around St Kilda are more or less unaffected by human intervention making it unique in the world.”

Robin Turner, NTS Head of Archaeology, commented from Suzhou:

“The problem for St Kilda’s cultural landscape lies in its very uniqueness. We have not been able to find anywhere in the world to compare to the level of survival of the remains combined with the remoteness and the unusual way of life – primarily relying on sea birds for food.

“We are looking forward to working further with international experts in this field to carry out the research needed to confirm St Kilda’s unique character and outstanding universal value.”

The bid for the cultural heritage inscription will be considered by a future meeting of the World Heritage Committee, the next event being held in Durban, South Africa, in late June 2005.

The Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Mr. Alex MacDonald, said:

“We are very proud to have a site of this renown in our jurisdiction and we wish to congratulate UNESCO and all those collaborative agencies who brought us to his important position.
“The Outer Hebrides is already well know for its natural beauty. It is the Council’s policy to be responsible for those environmental assets while ensuring a sustainable pattern of life for those who live here. We will ensure that St Kilda is well protected.”


For more information please contact:
Francoise van Buuren, NTS Corporate Communications Manager on (0131) 243 9384
Calum MacFarlane, PR Officer for Scottish Natural Heritage (01463) 723106
Elaine Mitchell, Senior Press Officer, Scottish Executive (0131) 244 2969
Nigel Scott, PR Officer for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (01851) 709389


WHS Key Facts:

The World Heritage List was established by the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted in November 1972 at the 17th General Conference of UNESCO. The Convention states that a World Heritage Committee 'will establish, keep up-to-date and publish' a World Heritage List of cultural and natural properties, submitted by the States Parties and considered to be of 'outstanding universal value'. As of 14 April 2004, 177 States have ratified the Convention, the United States being the first to do so. As of 14 April 2004, the number of properties on the World Heritage List is 754. For more information visit:

St Kilda Key Facts:

St Kilda Archipelago is a remote Atlantic Island group lying 64km west of the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. Part of the parish of Harris in the Western Isles it consists of four main islands - Hirta, Soay, Boreray and Dun; 3 sea stacs - Stac an Armin, Stac Lee and Levenish; and a great number of smaller stacs and skerries. The population living at Village Bay on Hirta is believed to have peaked at around 200 residents and when it was evacuated on 29th August 1930, only 37 people lived on the islands. Owned by MacLeod of Harris & Dunvegan until 1931, St Kilda was sold to the Earl of Dumfries who later became the 5th Marquess of Bute. He retained the islands, unoccupied and managed as a bird sanctuary, until his death in 1956 and in 1957 the islands came into the care of The National Trust for Scotland. From 1958 onwards, NTS volunteer work parties have visited annually restoring a number of the historic buildings for use by visitors, volunteers and researchers, as well as maintaining the ruined structures and assisting with archaeological excavations. Today around 1750 people visit St Kilda every year and around 30 people live there all year round. St Kilda is managed by The National Trust for Scotland in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Ministry of Defence and its agents QinetiQ. For more information please visit:

List of Designations include:

  • World Heritage Site (1986) for its natural characteristics, and in particular for its superlative natural features, its habitats for rare and endangered species, and its incredible, internationally important, population of seabirds.
  • Candidate Special Area for Conservation (currently with the European Commission, a decision is expected in the Autumn 2004) for its vegetated cliff areas, its reefs and its sea caves. These areas are considered to have a high diversity of habitat/species of European importance.
  • Special Protection Area (1992) placing an obligation on the UK Government to maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats for all species of wild birds naturally occurring in their European territories.
  • National Nature Reserve (1957) for its national importance as a site that can be managed in the long-term for the primacy of nature.
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest (1984) for its biological features, notably its marine grassland and heath, peatland, open water and coastland, its bird life and for its indigenous species of wren, field mouse and Soay sheep.
  • National Scenic Area (1981) for its outstanding scenic value and beauty in a national context.
  • Marine Consultation Area (1990) one of 29 in Scotland for its special distinction in respect of the quality and sensitivity of its marine environment and where scientific information substantiates its nature conservation importance.
  • Geological Conservation Review Site (1984) under three different subject headings: tertiary igneous geology; quarternary geology; and its coastal geomorphology.
  • Scheduled Ancient Monuments (1963, 1972, 2002) four major areas on Hirta were scheduled by Historic Scotland for the national importance of their archaeology. They comprise diverse and well-preserved multi-period remains of settlement on St Kilda, structures that date from prehistory through to the early 20th century. The remains have the potential to provide important information about life on St Kilda through the millennia, an extreme existence that was, and continues to be, of enormous interest to Scottish and international observers who documented the life of inhabitants from early times.

The bid was prepared by the Scottish Executive and the St Kilda Strategic Management Group. The St Kilda Strategic Management Group is, itself, chaired by the Scottish Executive and includes representatives of the National Trust for Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Department for Trade and Industry and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

© The National Trust for Scotland