Dugald Ross at an archaeological dig near Staffin Bay that the Staffin Community Trust ran in September 2015, in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands

Q&A with Dugald Ross

Eleanor Mills, 28.10.2016
'Museum without walls' on Isle of Skye wins funding
The Staffin Ecomuseum has existed for a number of years, but with a recently awarded Heritage Lottery Fund grant, it’s extending and rebranding to become the Skye Ecomuseum.

The stone-walled museum has gone from strength to strength since its founding in 1976, and attracts thousands of people a year. It’s content only became richer when the first dinosaur fossil was found on the island in 1982. Since then, in 2002, dinosaur tracks from the Middle Jurassic have been found, showing the footprints of an adult with young.  More recently, in 2013, several dinosaur finds were made which are currently being analysed.

Museums Journal caught up with the founder of the museum, Dugald Ross, who is a Staffin Community Trust director and member of the Skye Ecomuseum working group, and will be working on the project to extend the project.

How do you define an ecomuseum exactly?

The Skye Ecomuseum is based in Staffin, which is a rural district of scattered crofting townships in the north east of the island. It is an outdoor museum with “no walls and a roofless sky” and first opened in 2009. It saw a footpath network opened up at 14 different sites including Lealt, Culnacnoc, Tote, Garafad, Brogaig, Digg and Flodigarry.

Interpretation was installed illustrating the story of each particular area focusing on the heritage and landscape, which includes the famous Staffin Beach dinosaur footprints, crofting, the Gaelic language, industries, wildlife, geology, and archaeology. We are now in phase two of the ecomuseum. Staffin Community Trust provides access to these key points of interest after consulting with relevant landlords and crofting tenants towards the construction of pathways, viewing areas and interpretation panels and structures.

What does it have “in” it?

The Ecomuseum will tell Staffin’s story within our special landscape. For instance, the Staffin area has in recent years yielded some of the oldest archaeology in Scotland dating back 10,000 years. Apart from the world famous geology, Middle Jurassic dinosaur fossils are found on an annual basis and regularly attract international interest due to the worldwide rarity of this period. This basically means that Staffin is one of the few places where these rocks are exposed on the surface.

How will the future ecomuseum differ from now?

The continuing work in the above fields requires our content to be updated in the existing interpretation plus the installation of new ones, and we also plan attractive interpretation “welcome” structures at the Old Man of Storr, Quiraing and Flodigarry, which are the gateways into the ecomuseum and Staffin. An orientation point in central Staffin providing maps and an overview of the Ecomuseum will also be constructed, as will new footpaths.

Staffin Community Trust also plans to construct a viewing platform, extending towards Lealt Gorge, a Staffin waterfall that has commanding views of the Trotternish Ridge but also has an industrial past. The platform will allow our community and visitors to enjoy better access to the footprints at the Valtos Site of Special Scientific Interest, as well as the area’s fascinating geology.

What work is there needed to be done? When will it all be complete?

A lot! There are the capital works that we’ll complete in phases, but we also need to work on a fresh branding and marketing strategy, a new user-responsive website and packed events and activities programmes, which include a walking festival, guided walks and tours, an education curriculum pack for Skye primary schools, children’s craft and storytelling events, health walks.

We also run archaeology and wildlife events and workshops in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands, a Staffin Business Forum, a Staffin Local History Group. Fortunately, we will soon be recruiting for an officer to manage the ecomuseum project.

Where has the funding come from?

The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded a £522,000 grant. SSE, the power company, has also awarded £38,000. Staffin Community Trust has also sought funding from the Coastal Communities Fund.

If this project aims to increase tourism to the area, how will you mitigate damage and pollution to the landscape?

The proposed paths will be constructed to the high standard required of heavy usage and future maintenance will be done by volunteers. It is expected that provision of paths will in fact reduce erosion as walkers are more likely to follow a defined route. Advisory information is proposed with regard to disposal of recyclable litter within the local facilities.