Image for The Guga Hunters of NessNot currently available on BBC iPlayer

Duration: 1 hour

Ness is the last place in the UK where young gannets, known in Gaelic as guga, are hunted for their meat. The hunting of sea birds was outlawed in 1954 in the UK, but the community of Ness on the Isle of Lewis continues to be granted the only exemption under UK and EU law allowing them to hold the annual hunt.

Every August, ten men from Ness set sail for Sula Sgeir, a desolate island far out in the Atlantic. Following in the footsteps of countless generations, they leave their families behind to journey through wild storms and high seas to reach the remote hunting ground.

The men live on the island for two exhausting weeks, sleeping amongst ruins left behind by monks over a thousand years ago. They work ceaselessly, catching, killing and processing 2000 birds using traditional methods unique to the hunt.

Today the future of the hunt is uncertain. Island life has changed dramatically in recent years. The population of Ness has halved in the last 50 years as the young head south. Distinctive Hebridean traditions such as crofting and peat cutting, which have long since disappeared elsewhere in Scotland, are finally vanishing in Ness.

Last on

Thu 20 Jan 2011 21:00 BBC Two Scotland only

  • The Crew

    The Crew

    Mike Day, second from left, is a qualified yacht skipper and his brother Matt Day, second from right, is an ex-GBR Olympic team sailor and RYA Coach. Both have ocean sailing experience but filming the guga hunters proved a stern test of their skills. Aaron Sterritt, far left, has previously sailed across the Pacific from New Zealand to Panama. The team also included marine engineer Will Brown, right, (who came in very handy!). Will has extensive offshore sailing experience. Producer Andy Maas, centre, enjoyed his first nautical experience.

    Read more about the making of this programme
  • Ness, Lewis

    Ness, Lewis

    Ness is the northernmost part of the Isle of Lewis. It is the most north-westerly community in the European Union.

    See Wikipedia entry
  • Sula Sgeir

    Sula Sgeir

    One of the most remote of the British Isles, it is best known for its population of gannets.

    See Wikipedia entry
  • Exploits of guga hunters in print

    Exploits of guga hunters in print

    A new book has gathered tales from the annual guga expedition on the Western Isles.

    Read BBC News article
  • Scottish SPCA calls for guga hunt ban

    Scottish SPCA calls for guga hunt ban

    An animal welfare charity has called the traditional harvesting of young seabirds on the Western Isles as "barbaric".

    Read BBC News article
  • Cliffhanger for a bloody tradition

    Every August, a small group of men from the northern Hebrides sets sail in secret on an ancient expedition – to hunt and kill thousands of young seabirds on a remote island in the Atlantic.

    Read Guardian article
  • Scottish Gaelic for absolute beginners

    Scottish Gaelic for absolute beginners

    Guga is the Scottish Gaelic name for gannet chicks. To discover more about the language click on the link below.

    Beag air Bheag (little by little)
  • Northern Gannets

    Northern Gannets

    The Northern Gannet lives in the North Atlantic Ocean and is the biggest seabird in that part of the world.

    See h2g2 entry
  • Vertical Torpedo from Springwatch

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    Gannets plummet into the sea like darts reaching speeds up to 60mph.

    See more clips

Credits

Director
Mike Day
Producer
Andy Maas
Producer
Mike Day

Broadcasts

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