MoD illegally occupying St Kilda claims legal expert


The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is examining claims it is illegally occupying a remote Scottish island.

A retired lawyer claims the military’s lease on tiny St Kilda – 100 miles from the mainland – is illegal under crofting law.

Since the 1950s, the MoD has had a radar base on the Atlantic island that is used to test the performance of rockets vital to the security of the nation.


Douglas Wilcox
The archipelago of St Kilda is located 41 miles west of North Uist: Image by Douglas Wilcox


But Neil King, a retired property lawyer, says St Kilda remains crofting land and the MoD’s lease is “null and void”.

Crofts are small areas of farmland, mostly found in the highlands and islands of Scotland, that are governed by their own strict and complicated set of laws.


Douglas Wilcox
The islands are described as ‘the islands at the edge of the world’: Image by Douglas Wilcox


A crofting law expert described Mr King’s legal argument as “plausible”.

The MoD base is on Hirta, the main island of St Kilda. The island was crofting land for centuries until the last St Kildans were evacuated to the mainland in the 1930 when the community became unsustainable.


The archipelago of St Kilda is made up of for four main islands: Image Douglas Wilcox


But St Kilda has never been legally “decrofted” by its owners, currently the National Trust for Scotland (NTS).

Mr King, from Edinburgh, who is retired but blogs on legal matters, said the Crofting Commission had confirmed the island was still crofting land and it had not consented to the MoD lease with the NTS.


St Kilda is also well known for its stunning sea stacks jutting out from the ocean: Image by Douglas Wilcox


He said: “The point is unless that lease was approved by the crofting commission, or they applied for a decrofting direction, the lease is null and void.

“The worst case scenario is their lease is null and void. The National Trust, as the owner, could ask them to up and leave.”


Crofting law expert, Brian Inkster of Inksters Solicitors, said the analysis is very plausible


Crofting law expert, Brian Inkster of Inksters Solicitors, Glasgow, said: “Neil King’s analysis of the law relating to the St. Kilda crofts is very plausible.

“It is not uncommon to encounter developments that have taken place on croft land without decrofting. I have also encountered null and void leases elsewhere like the one the MoD have or perhaps do not have.”


The National Trust for Scotland now owns the archipelago: Image by Douglas Wilcox


Both experts said the MoD could still apply to get St Kilda “decrofted” to resolve the issue.

The National Trust for Scotland declined to comment on the legal status of their lease, saying they had “a mutually beneficial relationship with the MOD who are very helpful in managing such a remote location”.


For thousands of years the islands were home to a small community: Image by Douglas Wilcox


A spokesman added: “It’s certainly an interesting historical topic which we may wish to research further in the future.”

A spokesman for the MoD said: “The MoD is looking into the issue.”


The final 36 people were evacuated from the island in 1930 and the abandoned village on Hirta has been preserved: Image by Douglas Wilcox


St Kilda is famed for its beauty and wildlife as well as a carefully preserved village of abandoned cottages.