Highlands & Islands

Western Isles' Sula Sgeir guga hunt 'sustainable'

Gannet Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Scottish Natural Heritage said new research suggested gannets on Sula Sgeir are "faring fairly well"

Scotland's only surviving example of a traditional guga hunt is sustainable, according to a study commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Guga are gannet chicks and about 2,000 are harvested on Sula Sgeir, a small island about 40 miles (64km) north of Ness on Lewis, in August.

SNH said the research demonstrated that the birds were "faring fairly well" on the isle.

It said the study also suggested the harvest was sustainable long term.

'Fishy beef'

In the past, guga hunts were done in other parts of Scotland, including on the remote archipelago of St Kilda.

The chicks are taken for their meat, which has been described as tasting like a cross between kipper and steak or "salty goose" and, less flatteringly, as "rotten leather and fishy beef".

Other descriptions have included it being like a mix of "anchovy paste and high-strength cod liver oil".

Modern hunts on Sula Sgeir are permitted under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

However, animal welfare charity the Scottish SPCA and campaigns organisation Care2 have opposed the harvest.

Image copyright Stephen Branley/Geograph
Image caption Sula Sgier is a small island about 40 miles (64km) north of Ness on Lewis

SNH said: "We recognise the importance and cultural significance of the guga hunt. Indeed the provision to license it through the Wildlife and Countryside Act reflects this.

"The survey data we have demonstrates that northern gannets are faring fairly well on Sula Sgeir.

"The count data available to us give us reassurance that the annual harvest of 2,000 gugas appears to be sustainable."

A spokesman added: "The modelling work we commissioned confirms our view that a harvest of 2,000 is sustainable in the long term, and that this is likely to be fairly robust in the face of any changes in breeding success or adult survival.

"We do consider this licence ensures this traditional activity can be maintained, and that it is not about maximising the potential harvest of gannets from an internationally important site designated for this species."

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