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Sula Sgeir
Sula Sgeir is located in Scotland
Sula Sgeir
Sula Sgeir shown within Scotland
Gaelic name Sula Sgeir
Norse name Súlasker
Meaning of name Gannet Skerry
Area and summit
Area 15 ha[1]
Population (2001) 0
Island group North Atlantic
Local Authority Outer Hebrides
Flag of Scotland.svg Lymphad3.svg
References [2][3][4]
If shown, area and population ranks are for all Scottish islands and all inhabited Scottish islands respectively.
Sula Sgeir from the South West.

Sula Sgeir (Scottish Gaelic based on the Old Norse: súla, "gannet" and sker, "skerry") is a small, uninhabited Scottish island in the North Atlantic, 18 kilometres (11 mi) west of North Rona. One of the most remote of the British Isles, it lies more than forty miles north of Lewis and is best known for its population of gannets.

Although seemingly very inhospitable to humans, there is a ruined stone bothy called Taigh Beannaichte (Blessed House) on the east headland Sgeir an Teampaill. The hard gneiss rock of which the island is made splits into long pieces, which are excellent for building bothies and cairns, but the hard rough boulders and sharp rocks make for difficult walking.

The sea has burrowed right through the southern part of the island in a series of interconnected and spectacular caves which can be explored in calm weather by inflatable. The small lighthouse on the south end at Sròn na Lice is regularly damaged by the huge seas which break right over the rock during Atlantic storms.

Despite this there is a surprising amount of vegetation, and the thrift is especially colourful in June, which is probably the best month to visit.[5]



There are some 5,000 breeding pairs of gannets on Sula Sgeir, which they share with other bird species such as Black-legged Kittiwakes, guillemots, puffins, fulmars and at present what is believed to be the only resident albatross in the North Atlantic.[6]


St Ronan's sister, Brenhilda, is supposed to have stayed here for some time, leaving him on Rona, only to be found dead in a bothy with a shag’s nest in her ribcage.

Map of Sula Sgeir.[7]

Sula Sgeir has a special place in the seafaring history of the men of the Ness district on Lewis. One of the earliest accounts written about the Western Isles was by Dean Munro, who visited the islands in 1549. His description of Sula Sgeir mentions that the men of Ness sailed in their small craft to "fetche hame thair boatful of dry wild fowls with wild fowl fedderi".[8] How long before 1549 the Nessmen sailed to Sula Sgeir each year to collect the young gannets for food and feathers is not known, but it may be assumed that it was a tradition for centuries. That tradition is still carried on today. A report written in 1797 says:

"There is in Ness a most venturous set of people who for a few years back, at the hazard of their lives, went there in an open six-oared boat without even the aid of a compass."

Excellent seamanship was certainly essential for the success of these expeditions - rowing across miles of turbulent Atlantic was no pleasure cruise.

The flesh of the young gannet or guga is regarded as a delicacy in Ness today though, for others, it is an acquired taste. It was a popular meat in earlier times in Scotland. In the sixteenth century it was served at the tables of Scots kings and was a favourite with the wealthy as a ’whet’ or appetizer before main meals. In the autumn of each year, a hardy team of 10 Nessmen set sail for Sula Sgeir to kill around 2,000 young birds. They set up residence for about two weeks in stone bothys which can be seen by any daring visitor. They bring home their catch to meet an eager crowd of customers, who snap up as many of the birds as they can. The demand is often so great that the birds have to be rationed out to ensure that each person does not go without a taste of guga.

The annual cull of birds has been the focus of attention of bird protectionists, who recently have tried to ban the cull completely. But tradition dies hard and the Sula Sgeir trip still goes on, with a special dispensation written into the 1954 Wild Birds Protection Act by a Statutory Order, which allows the Nessmen to continue their taste both for adventure and for the guga.

Together with North Rona, Sula Sgeir was declared a National Nature Reserve in 1956 due to its importance for birdlife and grey seal breeding. The reserve is now managed by Scottish Natural Heritage and is the most remote and least-visited National Nature Reserve in Britain.[9]

See also


  1. ^ A figure of 1.244 km2 for the land area of Rona and Sula Sgeir is provided by Wood, L. J. (2007). MPA Global "Rona and Sula Sgeir" Retrieved 8 September 2009. Haswell Smith (2004) p. 326 gives 109 ha for North Rona. Sula Sgeir is therefore c.15.4 ha.
  2. ^ 2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland
  3. ^ Haswell-Smith, Hamish. (2004) The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh. Canongate.
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey
  5. ^ Innsegall online guide: Rona and Sula Sgeir Retrieved 29 June 2007.
  6. ^ BBC News (9 May 2007) No romance for lovesick albatross Retrieved 29 June 2007.
  7. ^ Harvie-Brown, J. A. & Buckley, T. E. (1889), A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides. David Douglas. Edinburgh. Facing P. XLVI.
  8. ^ Munro, D. (1818) Description of the Western Isles of Scotland called Hybrides, by Mr. Donald Munro, High Dean of the Isles, who travelled through most of them in the year 1594. Miscellanea Scotica, 2.
  9. ^ SNH Rona and Sula Sgeir ReserveRetrieved 29 June 2007.

Further reading

  • Atkinson, Robert (1995). Island going. Birlinn. ISBN 1-874744-31-9.  
  • Beatty, John; Brian Jackman (1992). Sula: Seabird Hunters of Lewis. Michael Joseph. ISBN 0-7181-3634-9.  
  • Murray, Donald S. (2008). The Guga Hunters. Birlinn. ISBN 1-84158-684-6.  

External links

Coordinates: 59°05′45″N 6°08′48″W / 59.0959°N 6.146599°W / 59.0959; -6.146599


Simple English

Sula Sgeir

Sula Sgeir
Sula Sgeir shown within Scotland.
OS grid reference:[1]
Gaelic name: Sula Sgeir
Norse name: Súlasker
Meaning of name: Gannet Skerry
Area and Summit
Area: {{{area}}}
Highest elevation: {{{highest elevation}}}
Population (2001): 0
Island Group: North Atlantic
Local Authority: Outer Hebrides
References: {{{references}}}

Sula Sgeir is a small, uninhabited Scottish island in the North Atlantic. One of the most remote of the British Isles. The island is inhospitable to humans. There is a ruined stone house called Taigh Beannaichte (Blessed House) on the east headland Sgeir an Teampall, the island is formed by pieces of rocks, where are often hard to walk on. Sula Sgeir is a National Nature Reserve since 1956. It is an important place for birds.

The most famous part of island are the caves, which can be explored.


There are 5,000 breeding pairs of gannets on Sula Sgeir, which they share with other bird species such as Black-legged Kittiwakes, guillemots, puffins and fulmars.


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