Minor British Institutions: St Kilda

Minor only in size and population, St Kilda, it has to be said, is a beautiful and rather poignant collection of islets in the Western Isles, or Eilean Siar, to give them their Gaelic name.

St Kilda comprises the islands of Hirta, Soay, Boreray, Dun and Levenish, plus a couple of outcrops called Stac an Armin and Stac Lee. An archipelago within an archipelago, then, St Kilda last had permanent residents in 1930. Apparently, puffin was the favoured snack of the locals.

The islands were bequeathed to the National Trust of Scotland in 1957, and designated a World Heritage Site in 1986. A small patch of land has been leased to the Ministry of Defence for use as a radar tracking station for their missile range, 40 miles east on Benbecula.

Now St Kilda is home to the vast colonies of gannets and fulmars and a unique species of wren. Around 15 hardy military and nature ranger types can be found on the islands at any time, possibly not watching Hitchcock's The Birds.

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