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Nature Reserves

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the once human population of about 130, has been replaced by a grey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.