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.
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Video highlights

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One of the simple pleasures of living in North Uist is to stand in my garden just after midnight and listen to the loud rasping ‘crex, crex’ song, recalling a grated comb, of around 10 corncrakes that inhabit the crofts surrounding the loch where my house is situated. After long-term declines dating back to the early 20th century, the species’ fortune was turned around following the introduction of a successful conservation programme in 1993. Since the start of the scheme, the Scottish corncrake population has trebled, reaching a high of over 1200 in 2007. Despite a modest, but concerning, decline in 2008 and 2009, counts in 2010 showed the total Scottish population of calling males was 1193, a rise of 61 on the previous year. This is largely down to the efforts of crofters and farmers working closely with conservation bodies like the RSPB and SNH. Scottish Government payments have allowed them to manage hay meadows and field margins in a way that is sensitive to the species needs.

Back in 1983 the islands had approximately 17,000 pairs of breeding waders with dunlin, ringed plover, redshank, lapwing and snipe being the most significant in UK terms. The Uist Wader Project was established in 2000 in response to concern about declines in these internationally important populations. Substantial evidence has shown that predation of their eggs by introduced hedgehogs were largely responsible for these declines. This project aims to remove hedgehogs through a combination of live trapping, spot-lamping and using sniffer dogs and translocate them to the mainland. The Hebridean Mink Project has already successfully eradicated this species from the Uists.

On Saturday, the ‘crew’ visited the RSPB reserve of Balranald where warden, Jamie Boyle gave a very informative commentary on why traditional crofting agriculture with rotational cropping is so important to maintaining the flower-rich machair and species like the corncrake, corn bunting and great yellow bumblebee that depend on it. Machair habitat is extremely rare and occurs over a total global area of only approximately 19,000 ha, with 70% of this mostly on the Western isles. Not surprising then, it has numerous environmental designations and why the EU has financed the Machair Life project to implement and demonstrate management methods that optimise the conservation interest and are compatible with local crofting practices.

There are other major threats to the fragile machair habitat such as general erosion and storm surges. Thursday afternoon was spent visiting various sites where coastal protection work has been undertaken on land now owned and managed by Storas Uibhist.  At Kilphedar work has just been completed to replenish the shingle on the storm beach and rebuild the sand dune near the foreshore, with sand from a nearby croft. Members of the township then used discarded fish farm cage netting, seaweed and transplanted marram grass to stabilise the sand bund. Other substantial works have been undertaken further up the coast and David Muir, Project Coordinator of CoastAdapt and various local crofters gave generously of their time to explain all the various options to address this serious and expensive problem that is only likely to increase.

Author: Graeme Robertson


Joins the expedition for week 2 Graeme Robertson is Executive Director of Global Islands Network, a Scottish based charity whose main aim is to conduct and promote culturally appropriate, ecologically sound, economically sustainable and socially equitable development on islands worldwide.
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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 ›