Highland villagers form ‘human chain’ to tackle fire on island bird sanctuary

A wildlife haven in the Highlands was saved from potential destruction by fire after dozens of villagers and tourists formed a “human chain" to curb its spread.

Shieldaig Island is almost entirely covered in Scots pine, thought to have been planted over 100 years ago to provide poles for drying the nets of local fishermen. Picture: The Travel Library/Shutterstock

More than 40 people were said to have raced from Shieldaig, in Wester Ross, to its island bird sanctuary a quarter of a mile off-shore and spent several hours trying to bring it under control.

The army of volunteers was assembled on Saturday after a plea for people to “go to the pontoon and bring buckets” was posted on the Facebook page of the Shieldaig Community Association.

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The village, which is on the North Coast 500 driving route, has a population of around 85.

Shieldaig Island is home to many types of bird, including kestrels, herons, owls and sea eagles. Its trees were originally planted to provide the village with poles for fishing nets and ships.

The fire is suspected to have been started by someone camping on the island, which is almost entirely covered in pine trees believed to have been planted more than a century ago.

Some of them had to be cut down to help prevent the spread of the fire on Saturday.

The Shieldaig Outdoor Adventures company helped, which transport helpers onto the island, said a “potential tragedy” had been avoided by the community effort.

Composer Steve Carter, who was part of the team of volunteers, posted a series of tweets about the fire on Saturday afternoon, after raising the alarm with an initial post around 2pm which stated: “Some complete plank has camped on Shieldaig Island and has lit a fire. This may end up very badly...It hasn't rained for three weeks.”

He added: “Impressive response from the village. Pretty much everything has shut down and all younger men have been conscripted, and have jumped onto boats to be ferried to the Island. It looks like it's under control, but still some smoke. Close call.

"Fire out but smouldering, so a human chain has been created across the island and buckets are being transported to douse! It's >26C here so 'out' isn't good enough.

"There are now at least 40 people on the Island with every bucket in the village requisitioned. Pretty sure they have it in hand.”

Shieldaig Island is owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

A post on the Shieldaig Outdoor Adventures Facebook page on Saturday night said: “A potential tragedy avoided.

"This afternoon smoke was spotted on Shieldaig Island. Luckily it was seen earlier enough for the community to rally together with great spirit and help from visitors too to get it under control. After a few hours the fire was out.

"Later on the local fire team also made an inspection and cooled any lingering hot spots.

"The cause of the fire is unknown but it’s a good reminder of how dangerous things are right now. The island is also a nature reserve, please do not venture on to it.

A post on the Shieldaig Community Association page on Saturday night said: “Well done to everyone who helped put the fire out on the island.

"Incredible effort from everyone. Locals and tourists all helping together. Never knew Shieldaig had so many buckets.”

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