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! 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. 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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
The July/August 2016 edition of ‘Scottish Islands Explorer’ is available to buy in the shops for only £3.95 and the editor’s daily blog is well worth a read at john-humphries.blogspot.co.uk. The 2016 St Kilda Club Reunion will be held at Edinburgh Zoo on Saturday 26th November. Please note that tickets for this event will be available to purchase through the St Kilda Club from October. I hope to see you there.