History Of St Kilda

St Kilda is the name given to the group of islands 41 miles off the western coast of Benbecula and is one of only 24 sites worldwide to be given mixed World Heritage Status for its natural and historical significance. The archipelago is made up of the 3 main islands of Hirta, Boreray and Soay.

These islands are the home to Europe’s most important seabird colony and have the largest sea stacs in Britain – Stac an Armin (191 metres) and Stac Lee (165 metres). It is also of great historical interest because the abandoned village still stands as it was left almost a hundred years ago.

The St Kildans relied on crofting, fishing and taking from the land to survive. Up until the mid-1800s they were totally self-sufficient with little contact from the mainland or other islands. One of the food sources that they relied upon were the seabirds that inhabited the cliffs and the men would abseil down to the nests to harvest live birds (gannets, fulmers and puffins) and their eggs. This was also a source of oil and feathers.

However, by the late 1800s, there was a feeling that things were changing. The loss of self-sufficiency and reliance on imports such as food and fuel meant that they were no longer able to survive without external contact. During bad weather there were severe food shortages as deliveries could not be made and this led to famine and illness. The outbreak of World War 1 brought a naval detachment to the main island of Hirta, which enabled extra deliveries and more contact with the outside world. When the war ended and the naval base was shut down, a feeling of growing isolation was felt among the islanders. Eventually, it became too unmanageable and the remaining 36 islanders requested to be evacuated.

In 1957, the archipelago was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland and part of the land is leased by the MoD who have an army base there. These provide the only permanent residents now.