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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Islands join world heritage elite
St Kilda
St Kilda was inhabited as early as 3,000BC.
The remote Scottish islands of St Kilda have joined an elite of 24 locations which have been given two Unesco World Heritage Site listings.

The archipelago, which lies 45 miles off Benbecula in the Western Isles, is already listed for its remote and unspoilt natural environment.

However, it has been listed again, to recognise its cultural significance.

It ranks alongside Ayers Rock in Australia, Mount Athos in Greece and Machu Picchu in Peru.

Human occupation

Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) originally gave St Kilda World Heritage status in 1986 for its natural characteristics, in particular its habitats for rare and endangered species.

It has now extended the World Heritage inscription to include the "cultural landscape" left by thousands of years of human occupation.

Despite its reputation as a harsh environment, surveys have uncovered evidence that suggests St Kilda was inhabited as early as 3,000BC.

The main island, Hirta, once supported Britain's most remote community, with the inhabitants surviving for centuries on the seabird population, subsistence agriculture and eating dishes such as baked puffin.

By the 1920s the population had fallen from 200 to 36, and this decline, along with poverty and severe weather, led to them abandoning their homes in August 1930 and moving to the mainland.

It is truly a unique and fascinating place
Robin Pellew
National Trust for Scotland

Scottish Culture Minister Patricia Ferguson said: "The extended inscription on the World Heritage list recognises the outstanding universal value of the cultural as well as the natural environment of St Kilda.

"The story of St. Kilda is unique. For more than 5000 years a community survived on these remote, inhospitable islands. Their achievement and the quality of evidence that remains are recognised in this important accolade."

The National Trust for Scotland, which has owned St Kilda since 1957, said it was delighted by the news

Robin Pellew, chief executive for the National Trust for Scotland said: "What makes St Kilda so significant in cultural terms is that it provides evidence of how people lived and evolved since prehistoric times.

"It helps us to understand how people survived in extremely difficult and remote conditions over thousands of years. It is truly a unique and fascinating place."

The World Heritage List was established in 1972 to protection sites of cultural and natural importance.

Sites on the lists are considered to be of "outstanding universal value".

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31 Jan 01 |  Scotland

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