The Southern Hebrides are full of surprising little islands, often with a rich history and beautiful landscape with a great natural value. Take for instance the group of islands at the entrance of Loch Sween who are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, opposite Kilmory off the Kintyre west coast. This relatively unknown group of islands are referred to as the Ulva, Danna and the McCormaig Isles SSSI. This is not the Ulva near Mull but Ulva island in Loch Sween. The islands belonging to this group are Danna and Ulva and the McCormaig Isles which consist of:
Carraig an Daimh – Isle connected to the rock
Eilean nan Leac – island of the grave
Eilean Gamhna – island of the farrow cow
Corr Eilean – tapering island
Eilean Mor – big island
Danna Island is a tidal island and connected by a stone causeway to the southern end of the Tayvallich peninsula, which separates Loch Sween from the Sound of Jura. One could argue about its status as an island since it is connected to the mainland, some describe Danna as a peninsula and not an island. Danna is an inhabited island with a population of five and consists of mainly farmland.
The McCormaig Isles are a group of small islands south of Danna. The MacCormaig Islands lie in the entrance to Loch Sween within the powerful tides of the Sound of Jura. The islands are a popular kayaking destination. The biggest island, Eilean Mor, is owned by the Scottish Nation Party. “The medieval chapel, dedicated to St Cormac, is close to the anchorage in the northern part of the island as well as a cross. The chapel is relatively well preserved although it was once used as an ale-house and illicit still. The saint was buried nearby. To the south beyond the two standing crosses, one of which is a replica, there is a cave which was an anchorite’s retreat. This deep, damp grotto has two 8th century crosses incised on its rock walls. Outside are the ruins of a second chapel proving the veneration in which the island was held.” (quote from hamish haswell)
McCormaig Isles – Eilean Mor Cross – view to Jura
Ulva Danna and The McCormaig Isles Site of Special Scientific Interest
A quote from the SSSI report: The SSSI site comprises the Ulva peninsula; including the coastal lagoons leading into the Linne Mhuirich in the north east and the head of Loch na Cille on the west coast; and also includes the islands of Danna, Liath Eilean, Sgeir Bun an Locha, Sgeir Dhonncha, Eilean Mor, Dubh Sgeir, Corr Eilean and Eilean Ghamhna, which lie in the entrance to Loch Sween.
The distinctive topographical series of north-east/south-west orientated ridges and valleys provides an important range in maritime exposure and soil moisture conditions. The diverse conditions present within the site are responsible for the rich mosaic of different grassland/heath vegetation patterns, which in turn have been influenced by agricultural management practices. Other communities which contribute to the exceptional habitat mosaic include the long established woodland and scrub communities which are particularly associated with the more sheltered east facing slopes.
The extensive coastal area includes rock crevice vegetation communities and saltmarsh zonations with particularly well developed saltmarsh flat-sedge Blysmus rufus communities in the saltmarsh hollows at the north end of Danna Island. Several of the islands and coastal skerries form breeding and haul out sites for common and atlantic seals Phoca vitulina and Halichoerus grypus and the area is well frequented by otters. The entire site supports an exceptional flora with especially rich areas around An Grianan. The ‘Flora of Danna’ by A G Kenneth (1964) lists many interesting species with a total of 550 vascular plants recorded for the area, plus four stoneworts (charophytes) and over 270 bryophytes. Eight nationally scarce plants occur including lesser tussock sedge Carex diandra and two eyebrights Euphrasia curta and E.rostkoviana.
McCormaig Isles – Eilean Mor Chapel – view to Jura
The outer islands have particularly important seabird colonies where significant numbers of cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, and over 1% of the British shag P.aristotelis population, breed. The wintering birds are internationally important. The Greenland races of the barnacle goose and the white-fronted goose occur in internationally important numbers. The barnacle geese utilise improved pastures on Danna Island as their core feeding zone, whilst the white-fronted geese range more widely, and utilise the saltmarsh communities to a greater extent. The offshore islands, notably Eilean Mor and Eilean Ghamhna, provide goose refuges and roosting sites.