St Kilda became a World Heritage Site in 1986 in recognition of its Natural Heritage; for its exceptional natural beauty and for the significant natural habitats that it supports. In July 2004 this was extended to include the surrounding marine environment. In July 2005 further recognition for the islands cultural heritage was awarded making it one of only a few places in the world with Dual World Heritage Status for both its natural and cultural significance.
The archipelago of St Kilda is 41 miles west of Benbecula in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. Only Rockall is further away from the Scottish mainland. The population here had struggled against the elements and their remoteness, and in 1930 the entire population were taken off St Kilda, and St Kilda left to its birds. Today the islands with their cliffs and sea stacs, form the most important seabird breeding habitat in north-west Europe. And the entire archipelago is owned by the National Trust for Scotland.
The name St. Kilda is believed to be derived from the Norse word skildir, meaning "shields". The islands were originally created by a large volcanic explosion. Hirta is the largest island in the St Kilda group, then there is Soay, two kilometres northwest of Hirta; and Boreray, six kilometres northeast of Hirta. There are several smaller islets including Dun, Levinish, Stac Lee and Stac an Armin. The only settlement was at Village Bay (Scottish Gaelic: Bàgh a' Bhaile) on Hirta.
The sea cliffs are particularly dramatic. The highest point is Conachair at 430 metres, whose whole north face is a vertical cliff over 300 metres high, dropping straight into the sea. Boreray reaches 384 metres and Soay 378 metres. In addition to these, there are several offshore stacks (the technical word for vertical pillars of rock). The tallest, Stac An Armin, is 196 metres high; another, Stac Lee, is 172 metres.
St. Kilda had apparently been inhabited since prehistoric times, but conditions were hard, and many emigrated to the United States and Australia. Lack of proper midwifery between 1830 and 1843 resulted in 80% infant mortality from tetanus. By 1891 the population had declined to such a level that the archipelago's economy broke down. Food shortages were recorded in 1912 and an outbreak of influenza in 1913. Eventually the islanders asked the government to take them all of St Kilda. On 29 August 1930, the final 36 inhabitants left for the Scottish mainland.
The islands were purchased in 1931 by Lord Dumfries (later 5th Marquess of Bute), who bequeathed them to the National Trust for Scotland when he died in 1956.
Although there is no permanent population today, the main island of Hirta is in fact occupied all year round by people working in the military base there and by scientists carrying out research on the feral Soay sheep population. The military base is part of the Hebrides missile tracking range.
It is a breeding ground for many important seabird species including gannets, of which it has the world's largest colony; puffins; and Leach's Petrels. The small island of Dun is home to the largest colony of fulmars in Britain. There is also a variety of wren, Troglodytes troglodytes hirtensis, endemic to St. Kilda.
There are at least three WWII aircraft crash sites - one near the "Amazon" settlement and one on the south coast of Soay. Bits of aluminium buried in the soil regularly surface.
In 1937, after reading of the St. Kilda evacuation, Michael Powell made the film The Edge of the World about the dangers of island depopulation. It was shot, not on St. Kilda but on Foula, one of the Shetland Islands.
St Kilda, Scottish National Trust
Cultural Hebrides - St Kilda
Photographs of St Kilda
World Heritage Sites in Britain