The Bass Rock: ‘One of the 12 wildlife wonders of the world’ acting as a sanctuary for gannets in east coast of Scotland

Described by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the 12 wildlife wonders of the world”, we take a look at the Bass Rock, or simply the Bass – an island acting as a sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of gannets in the east coast of Scotland.

The Bass Rock is a sanctuary for gannets, hosting over 150,000 of them during peak breeding season (Photo: Lisa Ferguson).

Located in the outer part of the Firth of Forth – situated a little more than a mile offshore and about three miles north-east of North Berwick – the Bass is a steep-sided volcanic rock, 107 metres at its highest point.

However, what makes this volcanic lump in Scotland’s east coast so unique is that it is the largest single rock colony of northern gannets on the planet.

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Hosting more than 150,000 of seabirds during peak breeding season, the island saw the first ornithologists who gave the gannet the scientific term Sula Bassana or Morus Bassanus – where the name of the island comes from.

Sporting treacherous jagged edges, precariously placed cliffs, ancient chapel ruins, a lighthouse, and a castle-turned-prison, this volcanic plug is a Site Of Special Scientific Interest (Photo: Lisa Ferguson).

With treacherous jagged edges, precariously placed cliffs, ancient chapel ruins, a lighthouse and a castle-turned-prison, this volcanic plug is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is steeped in rich history.

The Bass appears in Catriona, the sequel to Kidnapped by the prolific Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who described it as “just the one crag of rock, as everybody knows, but great enough to carve a city from”.

The writer’s cousin, David Stevenson, designed the Bass lighthouse, which appeared in 1902.

Historically, it is said the very first of all human inhabitants was Saint Baldred in 600 AD – an evangelist, monastery founder, and hermit.

James Hutton, the father of modern geology himself, was the first to recognise the island as an igneous intrusion, which happens when magmna is trapped beneath the earth's surface and pushes the rock above it out into a dome shape (Photo: Lisa Ferguson).

Today, only the ruins of Saint Baldred’s Chapel remain upon the spot he used to frequent.

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"Gannet" is derived from Old English ganot, from the same Old Germanic root as "gander". The seabird has for centuries made its home at Bass Rock (Photo: Lisa Ferguson).
Only the ruins of Saint Baldred's Chapel remain on Bass Rock (Photo: Lisa Ferguson).
Visitors who want to see the Bass Rock up close can book a tour on one of the boats operated by the Scottish Seabird Centre (Photo: Lisa Ferguson).
The island belongs to Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple, whose family acquired it in 1706, and before to the Lauder family for almost six centuries (Photo: Lisa Ferguson).
The Bass Rock Lighthouse was constructed on the rock in 1902, and the remains of an ancient chapel survive (Photo: Lisa Ferguson).
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