Lockdown on Foula

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) provides funding to seven community ranger services in Scotland.  In today’s guest blog we join Foula Ranger Service to find out what life has been like during lockdown on one of the most remote inhabited islands in Europe.

Here on Foula, we are used to isolation. Many a day, in the winter, neither plane nor ferry can cross the miles between here and the rest of Shetland. Weeks can pass without seeing anyone else except fellow islanders. But, somehow, lockdown feels different, like we are stuck in some strange dream.

For Foula Ranger Service, this would usually be our busiest time of year. There are three part-time rangers, all local crofters, myself (Sheila), Magnie and Fran, plus support from volunteers. We work to conserve, monitor and interpret Foula’s unique natural and cultural heritage for our community and visitors from around the world.

Usually summer would be cruise ship season for the island. The ships carry up to 150 passengers, an invasion for our small population, so we plan carefully.  We use our Community Hall to help contain them, decorating it with interpretive displays, and from home bakes to music, pet lambs and a peat-cutting demonstration, our fantastic volunteers and local community all lend a hand.

Sun and blue seas or a day of rain and mist, there are some wonderful walks on the island we would usually guide visitors along. The long North Walk is my favourite. On a fine day I head up to Est Hoevdi to see the high cliffs of the Nort Bank, soaring above us, a sheer wall 700ft high. If it is rain and mist, Gaada Stack looms out of the whiteness just offshore, backed up by the great rock teeth of Sheepie and the Stacks o da Logit.

Along the coast to the War Memorial, you can wander among the wildflowers, spotting birds and seals while for slower walkers there is  the road with orchids, marsh marigolds and skylarks singing.

For us, welcoming cruise ship guests is like a big party, a chance to meet an array of interesting people from all over the world, see new faces, hear new voices. We go home buoyed up with the knowledge that they loved our island.

But this year is, of course, very different. There have been no cruise ships, no planes, no visitors and no school. Summer may have been cancelled but we are using this time productively to review our plans, refresh interpretative materials, explore online options and, after 20 years as rangers, writing our first ever blog!

Meanwhile nature continues its usual cycle.  The seabirds are back. Shags have already laid, gannets sit snug on nests, guillemots crowd the ledges. Inland, bonxies claim every square foot of hill and moorland and the evening sky hums with snipe drumming. Lambing is safely over and islanders are busy cutting peats. Slowly our world turns green.

We look forward to welcoming visitors back to this special place again once life gets back to normal.  In the meantime, you can get more of a glimpse of our island life and its special wildlife, history and culture by visiting Foula Heritage’s Facebook page.

All images ©Foula Ranger Service

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