Papa Westray

The Holm of Papay

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Papay from the north - photograph by John Harper

The North Hill - Papa Westray

A rare area of wild maritime sedge heath habitat managed as a nature reserve by the people of Papay in conjunction with the RSPB and SNH.

This is a reserve of European importance as a nesting site of the arctic tern as well as lapwing, blackbacked gulls, arctic skuas, whilst on the cliffs especially at Fowl Craig large colonies of kittiwake, guillemot, razor bill, black guillemot and puffin can be seen. Recent years have seen a marked reduction in successful nesting for many species, apparently due to their food supply (principally sand eels) moving further north because of global warming. However, arctic terns on the North Hill managed to successfully fledge more than 220 chicks in 2009 - compared with none at all in 2008 - as the food supply was markedly better. In the late 1980s, according to the RSPB, arctic terns at this site regularly fledged around 1,000 chicks, and no one knows whether such abundant breeding seasons will ever return.

A Pickie (Arctic Tern) - photograph by Douglas Hourston

Unusual bird visitors are frequently observed. It was at Fowl Craig that the last Great Auk ( a large flightless relative of the puffin ) was shot in the unenlightened days of 1813.

The RSPB provides a resident warden during the summer months to guide visitors and record bird activity.

The North Hill also has a number of archaeological sites. In The archaeological sites and Monuments of Papa Westray and Westray, R.G. Lamb (1983:13) describes the site known as Kraa-tooies:

"On the broad ridge-summit and upper slopes of North Hill and Errival are at least forty burial-mounds, all circular or oval, and varying from 6m to 11m across and up to 0.7m in height. RCAMS reported the presence of 'cramp', and the OS records slab-structures in two. This is in the heart of Europe's largest arctic tern colony, and thus access is difficult in summer-time."

Whilst visiting the North Hill watch out for an amazing kaleidoscope of beautiful wild flowers including the famous Primula Scotica.

Primula Scottica - photograph by Douglas Hourston

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