One evening a couple of weeks ago while eating supper I looked out the window to see two trucks and four people walking along the lighthouse fence. Seeing people walking around the lighthouse is not unusual as we have thousands of tourists visiting the area but not as a rule that late in the afternoon. It is rare to see trucks parked in the grass. One of the walkers was the farmer who pastures his sheep on the hills around the lighthouse. Perplexed, I wondered what in the world was going on?
Curiosity aroused, I wandered out to talk with the farmer who explained they were putting up a fence under an ESA grant to protect the rocks. The Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) scheme promotes agriculture practices that help create unique landscapes and contribute to the maintenance of wildlife habitats or historic features. The rocks around the lighthouse and along the coastline in both directions are basalt lava and protected by Scottish Natural Heritage as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). These sites are so designated because of their plants or animals or habitats, their rocks or landforms or a combination of these. Sites of Special Scientific Interest are the main nature conservation designation in Great Britain.
I was excited that the new fence might help protect the Puffin nests on the cliffs from the tourists. Since the Puffin population is declining, protection of their nesting area was a top priority, as far as I was concerned. My husband says, “You have a fixation on Puffins.” And he is right as I really enjoy watching these fascinating birds.
I watched as the fence took shape. The area inside the fence was huge. The farmer completed the easy part in the hills first, then began to work on the side that would go from the lighthouse to the cliff edge through the basalt lava rock. The people putting in the fence were dreading this part, as it was tricky. Once they started working on the fence to the cliffs they worked only in the evening and were not where I could see them.
One morning, I was surprised when I went out to hang up clothes and found sitting near the cliff edge was a big digger. I was confused. Knowing the rocks were protected they could not possibly use a digger on them. Being a weekend, the people began working on the fence early in the day. I watched in horror as using the digger (backhoe) they broke up the rocks near the edge of the cliff and moved them around. Not only were they abusing the rocks they were hammering near the Puffins’ main breeding area.
Our caretaker came up to check on me that afternoon and he told me there was nothing I could do as it was being done under an ESA grant. I kept asking him “How can they destroy the area they are putting up the fence to protect?” It just did not make sense to me. I decided I was going to find out how this could happen.
I first called the Shetland office of the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs division and found the fence was being put up to protect the flowers in the pasture from over grazing by sheep; not to protect the rocks. The official there was also concerned about the digger being used on the rocks and said he would look into it. Scottish Natural Heritage said the farmer had completed the appropriate applications but they also were concerned about the digger being used. I was impressed with the quality of people I spoke to at both agencies and was delighted when the Department of Rural Affairs notified me that the digger would be removed from the cliffs and no more digging on the rocks would be done.
The fence is now completed and hopefully it will protect the cliffs and the Puffins from tourists and the wildflowers from the sheep, at least for a little while. The ocean will probably destroy the fence and things will revert back, as nothing survives in the lighthouse area that is not made of rock and concrete. A sort of area wide lottery has developed on who can predict, with the most accuracy, when the ocean will demolish the fence.
I learned a lot about SSSIs and ESA, but the most important lesson I learned was how imperative it is to protect the beauty around the lighthouse. Just because we live in an exceedingly remote area does not mean it is safe from destruction. We have decided the only way to protect the land around the lighthouse is to buy it. Currently we only own a few feet on the loch where the lighthouse’s windmill once stood but have started to inquire about purchasing more.
This story appeared in the
June 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
All contents copyright © 1995-2018 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.