At Skuvoy in the southern part of the Faroe Islands egg harvest from the breeding seabirds has been practiced as long as people as inhabited the 12 square kilometer large island. Decades ago the island housed a huge colony of common guillemot but today the breeding population has undergone dramatic declines. Today common guillemot egg harvesting at Skuvoy – like other places in the Faroes – is completely banned. The green grass slopes of Skuvoy also form the breeding grounds of another important seabird: the Puffin. However, for the last decades chick productivity in Faroe puffins has been catastrophic and puffin harvest has also been banned. Instead, the inhabitants of Skovoy turn to the only seabird still present in population numbers that can carry a exploitation, the fulmar.
SKUVOY - Fulmar egg harvest
Once a year – in mid-May, the local inhabitants of Skuvoy will get together to harvest the eggs of the fulmar.
Skuvoy (in the background) is twelve square kilometer and inhabited by only 20-25 people.
The northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) breeds on steep cliff sides where a single is laid in May. The northern fulmar starts breeding at between six and twelve years old. It is monogamous, and forms long term pair bonds. It returns to the same nest site year after year.
The gently sloping inland of Skuvoy leads to the steep cliffs with breeding seabirds. Today the heavy robes used for egg harvest is carried on ATVs, which makes quite a difference in workload and demands fewer people.
Not much has changed in the way the harvesting takes place over the last hundred years. To insure the rope used for climbing, large wooden poles are hammered into the ground.
The two poles works as a brake on the heavy robe.
The person climbing the steep and slippery cliffs when collecting eggs are equipped with traditional shoes made of sheep wool. The shoes insure a firm grip on the wall even if the cliff is wet!
At the edge of the steep cliff a special device is used so the rope will run freely and easing the heavy job of pulling the rope up.
At the edge. The first stage of a long climb is conducted at Skuvoy.
During the climb down and up the steep cliffs it is essential that the climber has radio contact with the people at the top controlling the robe.
From the top of the cliff at Skuvoy the climber is closely followed by the other participants. The man in grey jacket is pointing at the small ledge with grass where the climber is collecting eggs (the image below).
Once the ledge with breeding fulmars is reached, the climber steps out of the safety of the rope in order to move more freely when collecting eggs.
Just like in the old days, the rope is pulled by hand – however at the end of the rope an ATV assists to make the job easier.
After the last climb the gear to wrapped up and departure for the village is prepared.
The eggs are transported back to the village in wooden boxes carried on the forehead.
In old wooden boxes pasted on through generations the fulmar eggs is transported over the inland of the island Skuvoy. The boxes are insulated with grass or mosses in order to protect the valuable eggs.
Old and new – traditional and modern – meets at Skuvoy! Already before the village is reached the result of the egg harvest is updated to Facebook via smartphone.
Back in the village the day is evaluated.
After the harvest the fulmar egg are shared between the persons participating in collecting the eggs.
The successful harvest is celebrated with a glass homemade snaps dunk of glass inserted in a sheep horn. In the old days the person climbing the rope was entitled to extra quota of alcohol ease the nerves before climbing the steep cliff.
Tummas Frank Joensen from Skuvoy has been harvesting seabirds since he was a young man. Today his knees are weak but the ATV allows his to participate anyway.
Sheep - the main trade at Skuvoy
Most of the Faroe seabird population (like guillemots and puffins) has undergone significant declines under the last decades. The Fulmar (the image) however is an omnivore eating most food items at the sea surface has not declined the same way and is today the most harvested species.
At Skuvoy puffins breed close to the village – today only in small numbers. Not long along large numbers of puffins were harvested at Skuvoy – today this harvest has come to a hold.
Traditional footwear used when climbing for eggs.
Skuvoy is connected to the rest of Faroe Islands by a small ferry that runs four times a day.
The view to the south of Skuvoy: Stora Dimun og Litla Dimun.
At Skuvoy a single village (with the same name) is in danger of being depopulated and today only 21 people (2014) lives on the island.