Love Our Islands, Save Our Seabirds

For nearly a decade I’ve been an avid reader of ‘Scottish Islands Explorer‘, the UK’s only magazine devoted to exploring the islands of Scotland. Every two months a copy of this 52 page glossy publication brightens my day by landing on my doormat, providing a wealth of information on a range of topics from book reviews to festivals, photography, historical narratives, holiday inspiration and the all-important quiz!

Scottish Islands Explorer

I’ve taken out various magazine subscriptions over the years and let most of them lapse but ‘Scottish Islands Explorer’ remains a firm favourite. It was therefore a huge privilege to be invited by the editor, John Humphries, to write the guest column for the current issue.

I’ve been a member of the St Kilda Club for about the same length of time as I’ve been a subscriber to ‘Scottish Islands Explorer’. Founded more than fifty years ago, the club promotes interest in the remote Scottish archipelago of St Kilda, fosters friendships among its members and raises funds for conservation work on the islands. 

Guest column

After casually mulling over the content of my upcoming guest column for a month or two last year, I was suddenly struck by inspiration on a late night drive from Edinburgh to my parents’ house in Perth, following the annual reunion of the St Kilda Club in November. By the time I reached the northern end of the M90, I’d written the piece in my head. I’d no sooner switched off the ignition before switching on the laptop, completing a first draft shortly after midnight. Some seven months on and it’s an honour to see my name in print and my column sitting alongside that of the editor, complete with an action ‘selfie’ captured on an islands boat trip!

SIE Guest Column July-Aug 2016

You’ll need to pick up a copy of the magazine to read my column in full but, for those of you who aren’t lucky enough to live on our island shores, I’ll shed some light on the content.


I start by questioning why we love our islands and offer some answers based on the sense of escapism I feel every time I step off a ferry at the beginning of a holiday. Islands may offer temporary respite from our real lives but they are becoming less and less able to provide an escape from the unprecedented global challenge of climate change.

This year the remote Scottish archipelago of St Kilda – Scotland’s only dual World Heritage Site – celebrates the 30th anniversary of being awarded UNESCO Natural World Heritage Status in recognition of its population of feral Soay sheep; its two endemic sub-species (the St Kilda Wren and the St Kilda Fieldmouse); and its vast colonies of seabirds.

Warming seas

I first visited St Kilda in 2006 as a member of a work party organised by the islands’ owner, the National Trust for Scotland. Back then I was alarmed to hear first-hand from the St Kilda Seabird Ranger how adult Puffins were struggling to feed their young, as warming seas were forcing their main source of food (sand eels) further north.

It’s ten years later and the situation hasn’t improved. The Puffin, one of our most loved seabirds and my personal favourite, has been placed on the Red List of Threatened Species. Kittiwakes are struggling too, with a single chick fledging from four occupied nests on St Kilda in 2015. To put this into context, there should have been hundreds. Sadly, it seems that climate change has become an inescapable fact of mainland and island life, and St Kilda is no exception.

Puffins face an uncertain future
Puffins face an uncertain future as climate change gradually warms the seas around the Scottish islands.

Purely by chance, my guest column in ‘Scottish Islands Explorer’ couldn’t have been timed more perfectly and my opening question, “Why do we love the Scottish islands?”, couldn’t have been more apt. Caring for this iconic group of islands, conserving its cultural heritage and monitoring its wildlife costs the National Trust for Scotland some £270,000 per year. This month the charity has  launched the Love Our Islands appeal in an attempt to raise funds for the ongoing historical conservation and environmental work on St Kilda.

Not too late

I concluded my guest column with a final reflection on climate change: “The time for decisive action was 30 years ago but it’s not too late for positive and effective change today, to help protect the islands we love.”

I urge all island goers and animal lovers to take a moment to visit the National Trust for Scotland’s dedicated Love Our Islands website and consider making a donation. Alternatively, why not become a member of the St Kilda Club and join a community of people who love Scottish islands and are committed to working with the National Trust for Scotland to help secure a positive future for this special place in our ever-changing world?


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35 thoughts

    1. Thanks Josh! When I started writing my blog I never imagined that it would lead to a piece in my favourite magazine. Hopefully it’s a taste of things to come. 🙂

  1. Bad days for seabirds…

    Thank you Karen for this article. Can I translate this into french ? I will share on my website about St Kilda ! 🙂

    1. It’s a tragedy for these birds. Let’s hope something can be done to improve the situation, although I fear it may already be too late.

      Yes, please credit me and perhaps include a link back to my blog, but I’m happy for you to translate this for your website. 🙂

      1. Yes I think it’s too late 🙁
        Yes I will credit you and include a link back to original article on your blog ! Thank you ! 🙂

          1. Well done! It’s lovely to see this on your website. Thank you! I’ve just posted another blog on St Kilda today which might of interest too. 🙂

    1. Thank you Bernadette. I daresay I’ll hear more about the campaign at the St Kilda Club reunion this November. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to report something more positive then.

  2. Congratulations Karen and so well written. I’m shocked to hear about the precarious situation of the Puffins and other seabirds. Do you know what action is being taken to protect them?

    1. Thank you Dan. You’re right, it’s shocking. It doesn’t look the the situation is going to resolve itself and the only real hope is to continue to press for worldwide action on climate change. Supporting charities such as the National Trust for Scotland or the RSPB feels like a small gesture but it all helps.

  3. Congratulations, Karen. You’ve written a packed piece that makes its point so cogently. I love your story of its composition too – obviously inspired! I’m glad to have the islands back in my blogging life, even though it’s not a happy post. So many impacts of climate change – they keep accumulating as local stories are told. There’s something positive for politicians to do.

    1. Thanks very much, Meg. I’m glad to have brought the islands back into your blogging life. Sometimes I’ll force myself to sit down and write but I love it when inspiration strikes out of the blue as it did for my guest column! For years climate change was something that was talked about and was happening ‘out there’. Nowadays, however, it’s becoming increasingly apparent as we go about our daily lives. The environment is all too often overlooked by politicians and I really admire those who recognise that it needs to be at the heart of politics.

    1. Thank you Robin. That’s brilliant! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I’m doing a couple of full length articles for Scottish Islands Explorer too but we’ll have to wait until next summer for them to be published!

  4. Congratulations on your article! Thank you for bringing more recognition to the scourge of climate change! I had the good fortune to visit some of the Scottish Islands several years ago; very special and magickal places that need to be saved!

    1. Thank you! The rate of change is truly terrifying. I read on the news today that the northern hemisphere jet stream has crossed the Equator seemingly for the first time. This is thought to be the result of climate change and some scientists are predicting even more extreme weather events as a result. Anything we can do to protect special places like the Scottish islands is time, money and effort well spent.

  5. I’m really sorry to learn that the Puffin is at risk — well, sorry about any endangered species, but I have a special fondness for these little guys, and happy memories of learning more about them, and spending time in a blind observing them, during a trip to Grand Manan, New Brunswick. I’m glad you’re calling attention to this situation.

    1. Thanks Penny. I’m glad you’ve had the opportunity to see Puffins too. They’re such comical and colourful wee birds – I have a special fondness for them too.

  6. Marvelous post! Keep up the good work!
    I am sad to hear that the Atlantic puffins are not faring well there. Off the coast of Maine, there are 3 or 4 islands where researchers are monitoring puffins (and razorbills, terns, and guillemots). I read a post by the Project Puffin team ( about how difficult fishing can be for the puffins as the sea waters get warmer, as you mentioned.

    1. Thank you Jackie! Yes, it seems that plankton are moving as sea temperatures increase and so sand eels – Puffins’ main food source – are also on the move. I really hope Puffins and other seabirds manage to adapt. It’s encouraging to know that conservationists are doing what they can to help on the other side of the Atlantic too. Thanks for the link.

    1. Yes, they’re super cute. I went to the Isle of May last weekend and was surrounded by Puffins at close range – absolutely fantastic. I hope you get the opportunity to see them in the wild sometime.

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