An oystercatcher keeps a watchful eye out for humans
As winter sets in and the nights get longer, it can be pleasant to sit and think about places to visit when spring comes round again and the days start to lengthen once more. Somewhere that’s well worth a visit is Handa Island, which I’ve mentioned in two previous posts: Handa Island – Puffins Galore and Island Going – Robert Atkinson.
Access to Handa Island today is still seasonal (April to September) and weather dependent, but visitors get there in far greater numbers than when we first visited over thirty years ago. To get on and off Handa back then, you reached the small ferry by scrambling along a rather shoogly pontoon of upturned plastic milk crates. Getting onto the ferry today is definitely a rather more staid affair! And facilities on Handa have moved forward with the installation in 2012 of one of the best public eco-toilets in the world!
I recently came across this lovely little ‘Scotland on Screen’ film about Handa’s past history and present status as a bird and wildlife sanctuary. Filmed in the 1970s, it captures the island as it was when I first saw it. But don’t believe everything you read in the ‘Scotland on Screen’ preamble!! It may say that the film highlights birds like “… puffins, guillemots, herring gulls, cormorants and ‘dive-bombing’ skewers”, and while it’s certainly true you could well be dive-bombed by protective nesting birds, it will be by skuas – not skewers!! Enjoy the film!
Handa Island Summer.
BBC News – in pictures: The Loo with a View on Handa
Scottish Wildlife Trust
My first visit to Handa Island was in 1977, more than thirty years ago now. Two things in particular fascinated me about Handa’s history. One was that long ago families from the mainland brought their dead to be buried on Handa to keep the graves safe from scavenging wolves. The other that the island had had its own ‘parliament’ presided over by the eldest widow, the ‘Queen of Handa’, and that the islanders held daily consultations to decide the work to be done that day. It seemed wholly appropriate that the people who lived there were the ones who took the decisions that most closely effected their lives. And took those decisions as a community. Sadly, like so many Scottish islands and so much of the Scottish Highlands, Handa ‘lost’ its people in the mid-19th century and has been uninhabited since.
But its wildlife still flourishes! I remember vividly that sense of amazement on experiencing at first-hand the sight – and sounds – of the soaring sea-cliffs with their thousand upon thousand of nesting birds: the reality exceeding anything we’d imagined. In particular the unforgettable puffins, who seemed far more sedate than many of their more raucous neighbours! Handa is well-managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, with more than 5,000 visitors a year. And there was good news for all those visitors: to help cope with such an annual influx a new eco-toilet has been built on the island, aptly named “The loo with a view”