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Man or Gannets

Nature volume 142, page 605 (01 October 1938) | Download Citation



A CIRCULAR letter, signed by Sir Montagu Sharp, chairman of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Mr. John M. Crosthwaite, honorary secretary of the Scottish Society for the Protection of Wild Birds, has been received by NATURE and has been widely circulated in the daily newspapers. It states that the inhabitants of Lewis capture and preserve for winter food some two thousand nestling gannets, after a journey over some 40 miles of open sea to the uninhabited islet of Sula Sgeir ; sarcastic comment is made on “the apparent plight of the inhabitants... that of necessity they have to eat Gannets”, and suggests that this wilful destruction of these birds for human food should be stopped. The letter further states, inaccurately, that such slaughter is without precedent in Great Britain. This is scarcely correct. Historically, the use for human food of the nestlings of the birds which frequent certain bird rocks in Scotland in great numbers is an ancient practice which throughout centuries has made no appreciable difference to the bird populations. In Edinburgh the nestlings of gannets from the Bass Rock used to be sold in the streets, as a luxury and not as something which suggested the plight of starvation or lack of “sufficient food of a more ordinary and palatable kind”, as the signatories describe it. At the time when St. Kilda was most prosperous, its people preserved and fed annually upon, not two thousand, but many thousands of fulmar petrels, and if the stoppage of that source of food supply has had any effect upon the fulmar population, it has been to threaten to make that bird a nuisance on certain parts of the coast of the mainland.

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