Staffa to close for ‘urgent’ £1.6M repairs as tourism rockets

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An ‘ambitious’ £1.6million project to update Staffa’s visitor infrastructure begins in August, closing its world-famous National Nature Reserve until spring 2023.

Staffa’s wildlife, geology and dramatic scenery draw around 100,000 visitors every year. But its landing area, stairs and paths are now in need of ‘urgent’ repair, said the charity which protects and cares for the island, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS).

‘Visitor numbers to Staffa have risen dramatically in recent years and at times congestion on the staircase can be very problematic,’ the NTS said.

‘The high number of visitors to the top of the island has caused erosion, which requires new path works. We’ve received planning permission for an ambitious project to update the visitor infrastructure on Staffa in a holistic way.

‘A construction project of this scale, in this location, is a huge challenge. We’ve worked with our experts to come up with a timeline that gives us the best chance to get the works completed with minimum disruption to wildlife and to people.

‘We’ll start work in mid-August 2022 – after the seabird breeding season. Work will take place throughout the autumn (weather permitting). During this time, we won’t be able to have visitors on the island.

‘There will be a short pause in work over December 2022 and January 2023, before restarting in early 2023. Again, while contractors are on island, it will not be possible to land on Staffa.

‘The aim is to have as much of the island accessible in spring 2023 as possible.

‘Another challenge for our charity is covering the cost of a project of this scale. Latest estimates suggest this project will cost around £1.6 million. We’ve secured some support from the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF), administered by Argyll and Bute Council.

‘This grant has enabled us to explore the options and to prepare a further funding bid to RTIF which could cover a significant proportion of the major costs of carrying out this project.’

The Isle of Staffa, just ½ mile long and ¼ mile wide, looks like it may be from a different planet, the NTS says. ‘Its hexagonal columns were formed millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions and a vast blanket of lava that spread into the Atlantic Ocean. Years of waves crashing against these columns created the magnificent Fingal’s Cave.

‘Staffa was hardly known until 1772, when the botanist Joseph Banks highlighted the wild, natural beauty of the island. It soon became a must-see location. Famous visitors have included Queen Victoria, Lord Tennyson, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and John Keats; all fell under the island’s spell.

Staffa came into the care of the National Trust for Scotland in 1986, a gift from John Elliott, Jr, of New York in honour of his wife Elly’s birthday.

Staffa was designated a National Nature Reserve in 2001, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, sitting in the centre of the Loch na Keal, Isle of Mull National Scenic Area. The sea around Staffa is also a Marine Protected Area and Special Area of Conservation.