Monach Islands - A National Nature Reserve
The Monach Islands are located just to the west of North Uist. This group of islands is also known as Heisker, and it was said that they were once connected to North Uist. Legend states that a storm of great proportions swept the connecting sandbank back into the ocean, thereby leaving the small islands to the mercy of the great Atlantic Ocean. The once inhabited islands are no longer home to humans, and have been deserted since 1948. The islands are made up of Deasker Island, Stockay Island, Shillay Island, Ceann Iar Island, Shivinish Island and Ceann Ear Island. Ceann Ear Island was home to a nunnery, and in 1864 a lighthouse was constructed on the island and was run by monks. This lighthouse was later abandoned in 1943 and was replaced by an unmanned light. The Shivinish Island, Ceann Iar and Ceann Ear islands are connected at low tide by a sandbar.
In 1966, the Monach Islands were declared a National Nature Reserve, and the once human population of about 130, has been replaced by a grey seal population of approximately 10 000 individuals. The beautiful untouched beaches, rocky ledges and endless dunes also attract Eider Ducks, Terns, Shelducks and Waders to the islands to breed and mate. Not even the gale force storms that batter the islands can deter the wide variety of birds, such as Black Guillemots that strangely enough prefer the stormy islands to the more protected ones.
Approximately 100 different bird species have been recorded to frequent the islands, although only 31 of these species have been confirmed to use the islands for breeding purposes. The islands have managed to recover the vegetation that was depleted during the time that the islands were inhabited by humans, as livestock overgrazed the natural vegetation, and it has taken many years to rectify the damage. Machair has also started to grow in areas where it was once depleted, and dung from the seals and their pups assist as fertilizer to the islands. The Heisker Islands are accessible by a jetty that is located on Shillay Island, and tour boats often stop at the islands en route to their destinations.