In July 2011 Cape Farewell embarked on a month-long expedition by boat across the Scottish Islands, bringing the notion and experience of expedition home to the UK, with an exploration of island ecologies and cultures, and of the strategies for sustainable and resilient futures being implemented across the Scottish Isles. More ›

The Crew

The expedition crew of 40 includes island artists, storytellers, film makers, playwrights, architects, designers, musicians, community leaders, social scientists, ecologists, marine biologists, oceanographers, poets, acclaimed Gaelic singers and a chef.
Meet the crew ›

Read posts by



Video highlights

Watch video highlights from the expedition ›

Conservation in the Sound of Barra and East Mingulay

In 2000, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) proposed the designation of the Sound of Barra as a marine Special Area of Conservation (mSAC) to protect sandbanks and seals. This was followed, in 2008, by a SNH proposal to designate an mSAC in the waters east of Mingulay (a smaller uninhabited island lying to the south of Barra and Vatersay) to protect an inshore cold water coral reef. In October 2010, the Scottish Government released an Impact Assessment of the Proposed Designation of Two Inshore Special Areas of Conservation in the Sound of Barra and East Mingulay (Halcrow economic impact assessment of mSACs [PDF 9.5Mb]). The stated objective of the study is to provide Scottish Ministers with “a clear understanding of the main activities being undertaken within the proposed sites so as to better understand the possible socio-economic impacts and inform the planning of future management practices should both areas be designated as SAC”. Consultation on the proposed mSACs closed in February 2011 and there is as yet no news as to whether the sites will be designated or not.

The situation has been portrayed in black and white terms to date, with the local community resisting the perceived imposition of the mSACs due to fears that these EU designations will impose limitations on development, planning and change of the designated (and surrounding) areas and could impede existing uses (such as fishing). In the community newspaper Am Paipear in April 2010, the Chairman of the action group Southern Hebrides Against Marine Environmental Designations (SHAMED, formed in 2008) painted a stark picture:“The choice facing our community is clear: today the use and care of our natural resources are under local control and this control is vital to our social and economic wellbeing. Once land or water becomes an EU site, conservation becomes the primary purpose and management decisions are controlled by scientists and powerful environmental interests within the EU, whether based here or not. If more EU sites go ahead, we lose more control.”
I am intrigued by what underlies nature conservation conflicts which often appear polarised on the surface – nature versus humans. Such conflicts fit admirably within our ego-filtered views of the world which, although infinite in their variety, share a common trait of polarity, in that the “other”, that which is threatening to the ego – is always polarised and labelled as bad/undesirable/unacceptable/wrong. What shapes nature conservation conflicts requires us to explore territories which the ego would rather we avoid, because such an exploration leads us into the depths of human nature, to the inner world of the human psyche, in the search for clues to understanding how our subconscious influences our relationships with the outer environment, both human and natural. The realm of the imagination provides an entrance to this inner world, offering a possibility of discerning the entangled and multi-coloured web of threads which lies beneath the surface polarities. Philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch used the term “imagination” to refer to a capacity to see beyond the empirical to discern deeper truths about the world. This, she argued, is to be contrasted with “strict” or “scientific” thinking, which focuses on the surface reading of things. I believe that harnessing the imagination (the wellspring of human creativity) is key to finding ways forward in conflicts which appear to pit humans against nature and leave both sides stranded and separated by a no-man’s land which seems impossible to bridge. In the words of Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue:

The imagination is committed to the justice of wholeness. It will not choose one side in an inner conflict and repress or banish the other; it will endeavour to initiate a profound conversation between them in order that something original can be born.”

Author: Ruth Brennan


Joins the expedition for week 2 Ruth Brennan works as a marine social ecologist in the Centre for Coastal and Oceans Governance at SAMS. Her research interests include the coupled social-ecological aspects of marine policy with a particular interest in community participation in regional marine planning.
View profile ›

Recent posts by Ruth Brennan

1 Comment

  1. avatar Steve says:

    Did you look at the coral reefs on the way past?
    Messsage for the skipper-Tanera Mhor, where Frank Fraser Darling formulated his conservation ideas, is not far off the beaten track sailing south after Sula Sgeir; fancy a visit?

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Sea Change Programme

Puffin from the Bird Yarns project, part of Cape Farewell's Sea Change programme.
Grown out of the Scottish Islands Expedition, Cape Farewell’s Sea Change is a four-year programme of research and making across Scotland’s western and northern isles. Sea Change involves over 30 UK and international artists and scientists, working collaboratively and independently to consider the relationships between people, places and resources in the context of climate change.... Read more ›

A timely reminder of how valuable an outsider’s perspective can be

Community Energy Scotland’s annual conference offered a timely reminder of how valuable an outsider’s perspective can be.  It was reported on some research into how different countries are taking forward the development of renewable energy. The study looks at several European countries including Scotland, as well as five states in America. The most striking feature... Read more ›

First there was an island – then there was a boat

Shiants 2
“First there was an island – then there was a boat”, so begins a poem by Shetland writer Laureen Johnston.  Since owning my first boat at the age of eleven, I have been an obsessive explorer of islands, the smaller and more remote the better.  Once, in the grip of a sudden attack of aquatic... Read more ›

‘On these isles’

Lawrence has a 7am coffee break after feeding cattle.
‘On these isles’ is a project by photographer Ed Smith, whom we had the great pleasure of meeting when visiting the Island of Eigg. Ed has spent large periods of time on Eigg and other Inner Hebridean isles capturing life there in pictures. Have a look at more of his images and this project at... Read more ›

A gaelic song

Mary Jane Lamond, Jo Royle and Julie Fowlis Video by Ruth Little

Cape Farewell – we know what to do, can art help us get on and do it?

The following is an excerpt from Sara Parkin’s article found on the Forum for the Future website. …I was fortunate enough to join the crew for one week of a four week tour of Scottish Islands, starting with Skye and Canna before crossing the Minch to Mingulay, Barra and South Uist. The weather was kind,... Read more ›

Islands and Visions

Eigg Barbecue on Song of the Whale
There is a sea view when travelling from Eigg to Mallaig where you have a 360° vision of the Small Isles, Skye, the mountains of Scotland, Mull and, far into the distance, the Outer Hebrides. At 6 am yesterday the grey of the sea bled into the numerous blues of the mountains all dramatised by... Read more ›

Annie Cattrell and Jo Shapcott in conversation about week 4 of the expedition

Annie 1
JS Annie, what is it about islands? AC I like the fact that there’s a larger proportion of sea than land mass visible. There appears to be a completeness and self-sufficiency about the individual islands even though they are all distinctly different. There seems to be a big distinction between uninhabited and inhabited islands –... Read more ›


Photo by Sion Parkinson
(1) On the crossing from Ullapool to Stornaway on the Calmac, I wrote myself a list of rules, a set of behaviours that would concentrate my efforts, or assuage any guilt from any feelings of impotence, in my seven days aboard the ship. (1.1) Rules: (1.1.1) Take photographs, more than you need to, get in... Read more ›


Cotton Grass marking  Dwelling Rona
It was my birthday when I went to Rònaidh first. A place I wanted to see since I was little but I had always missed the boat. It is about forty miles north of my house near the Butt of Lewis. I went on the sixth of August aged thirty eight on the yacht ‘Song... Read more ›

Mary Arnold-Forster

Skye architect Mary shows the house of Fred Taylor she designed and reflects on the progress on Eigg and other green based aspirations for the islands architecture and energy supply.   Video shot by David Buckland     Sketches by Mary Arnold-Forster

Farewell and Ahoy: Log of a Voyage

Photo by Mary Smith
“Back in the kitchen.  A new group has joined Song of the Whale. There is an overlap of crew, Cape Farewell folk, and the artists and scientists who will sail together this coming week. They are planning to sail to North Rona, the Shiants and the coasts of Skye. But I’ve left the ship though... Read more ›