© Images and text by Carsten Egevang
Fulmar egg harvest at
SKÚVOY - a miniature community
Skúvoy in the southern part of the Faroe Islandsarchipelago is one of the smallest of the 18 island. Like so many other places at the Faroes seabird harvest has always been an integral part of life here. Harvest of the breeding seabirds has been practiced as long as people have inhabited this 12-square kilometre island. Egg harvest has been especially important along with Puffin hunting and harvest of the chicks of Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus.
10% OF THE INHABITANTS
Tummas Frank & Elisabeth Joensen are two of the 21 people living on Skúvoy in 2014. Tummas has been harvesting seabirds since he was a young man. Today his knees are weak but the ATV allows him to participate anyway.
CONNECTION TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD
Skúvoy is connected to the rest of the Faroe Islands by a small ferry that runs four times a day. At Skúvoy a single village Skúvoyarbygd is in danger of being depopulated. The remaining inhabitants are fighting to keep the ferry running and the connection to the outside world.
A change in harvesting
Skúvoy used to hold a huge colony of Common Guillemot – maybe as many as 2 million birds in the 1950ies and egg harvest significant for the community. Today the breeding population has undergone a dramatic decline and harvesting of at Skúvoy – like other places in the Faroes – is completely banned. The green grassy slopes of Skúvoy are also the breeding grounds of another important seabird: the Puffin. However, during the last decades, chick productivity in Faroese Puffins has been catastrophic and harvest also banned. Instead, the inhabitants of Skúvoy turned to the only seabird still present in such numbers to carry exploitation, the Fulmar.
The Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis breeds on steep cliff sides where a single egg is laid in May. The Fulmar starts breeding at between six and twelve years of age. It is monogamous, and forms long-lasting pair bonds. It returns to the same nest site year after year. Compared to the rest of the breeding seabirds in the Faroe Islands the Fulmar is a relatively recent bird species that started breeding around the mid-1800s. Where most seabirds are specialists targeting a narrow range of prey species is the Fulmar is more omnivorous. It will prey on most items found at the sea surface and often follow fishing ships in hope for discards.
WOOL GIVES FIRM GRIP
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!
HARNESS BY WOOL
Even the most important equipment when climbing the rocks are made of wool. The harness is constructed by thick, tightly woven wool combined with canvas and nylon ropes.
The Fulmar egg harvest nowadays on Skúvoy takes place more or less in the same way as in earlier times. However, few modifications have been made over time. The harvest takes place on a single day. Here specific sites at the edge where it is possible to decent the steep cliffs are used. These sites usually have certain names and has been used for generations.
The harvest requires a group of people. Apart from the persons descending the cliff to collect the eggs many strong arms are needed to pull up the climber. But hands are becoming fewer at Skúvoy and to meet this shortage a ATV (4-wheeled All Terrain Vehicle) is also used to pull the rope. In the old days, the climber would yell directions to the people holding the rope. Today this is done by a small walkie-talkie.
Loss of tradition?
We are worried that the old tradition of harvesting eggs will die out. It is very important to us to pass this practice on to the younger generation.
FOLLOWED FROM THE TOP
From the top of the cliff at Skúvoy the other participants keep a close look on the climber. The man in the grey jacket is pointing at the small ledge (the image to the right) with grass where the climber is collecting eggs.
Once the ledges with Fulmar nests are reached, the climber steps out of the safety of the rope in order to move more freely when collecting eggs.
GRANDPAS WOODEN BOX
The Fulmar eggs are transported in old wooden boxes pasted on through generations over land on the island Skúvoy. The boxes are lined with grass or moss in order to protect the valuable eggs.
TRADITIONAL AND NEW
Old and new – traditional and modern – meets at Skúvoy! Already before the village is reached the results of the egg harvest are updated to Facebook via smartphone.
SHARING THE EGGS
The eggs are divided by the people who participate in the harvest. The eggs are not shared equally but by the various roles different persons played in the harvest.
The successful harvest is celebrated with a glass homemade snaps dunk of a glass inserted in a sheep horn. In the old days the climber was entitled to an extra quota of alcohol to ease the nerves before climbing the steep cliff.
The photo reportage “Fulmar egg harvest at Skuvoy” is part of the project Seabird Harvest in the North Atlantic. Images included in the reportage are the result of a visit i May 2014 by Carsten Egevang and Bergur Olsen to Skúvoy. A warm “takk” goes to Tummas Frank & Elisabeth Joensen and the rest of the hospitable people of Skúvoy.