Feb 212024
Large rock at sea with a white building on one cliff; a white sailboat is visible in the foreground amidst blue seas and skies.
The Bass Rock, covered by nesting Gannets
©Ben Clarke, Wikimedia Commons

Bass Rock is an uninhabited island which lies in the Firth of Forth off North Berwick. Despite its rocky landscape, it was a royal jail in the 17th century, nicknamed the ‘Scottish Alcatraz’. Sold to the Hamilton-Dalrymple family, it was then used as a seabird hunting ground, a sheep grazing area, and a site to collect eggs or fish.

Profile photo of a white and brown bird in flight that has some tan coloring on its head.
A Northern Gannet
©jacme31, Wikimedia Commons

It is now a nature reserve, home to more than 150,000 birds and the world’s largest colony of Northern Gannets. The scientific name of gannets Morus Bassanus derives from the Bass Rock and its key role for gannet populations. In fact, the Gannets of Bass Rock faced a dramatic decline in 2022 due to the highly pathogenic avian influenza which killed more than 5,000 birds on the island.

The Bass Rock’ distinctive shape and interesting past inspired many works of fiction, from Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Lion Is Rampant by Ross Laidlaw, Tge New Confessions by William Boyd and the 2021 Stella Prize-winning The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. Though access is restricted as not to disturb the nesting birds, the Bass Rock can be visited by a number of boat tours from North Berwick.


Individual Researcher Walk; Scottish Seabird Centre; The Scotsman

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