Scotland is a country that has always fascinated us. From the picturesque highlands to its stunningly rugged coastline. So when we heard that Yorkshire based photographer and videographer Joe Burn had ventured to the Scottish Island of Eigg, we had to find out more!
Eigg, Our Island by Joe Burn and Ben Woolner
What attracted you to the isle of Eigg?
I was working with a friend at university and we knew we wanted to make a film that had an environmental message. I love Scotland, and after some initial research we found that a few films had been done before on Eigg, but these were mainly scientific. We wanted to take a different approach and try and make it more personal and relatable. We wanted to create something that was engaging, and tells a story visually. It was necessary to immerse ourselves within this small island community. We wanted to get to know them, see how they live and show how the renewable energy scheme affects their everyday lives.
Was the island originally owned by the government before the residents bought it in the community scheme?
No, it had a private owner. The islanders were able to buy a majority stake in the ownership of the island in a successful community buyout with the support of the Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Since buying the island, the community have been able to determine their future and the direction of Eigg, which must be a wonderful feeling after years of uncertainty caused by the previous owner. One of the major initiatives the islanders have implemented since the buyout is their unique renewable energy scheme which consists of combining solar, hydro and wind energy into one grid. We wanted to explore how that changed their lives opposed to how the island was run when it was privately owned.
How long did you stay?
We were there for 10 days in total. We’d heard from Maggie that because it’s a very interesting place, you have people who visit for a day or 2 and will stick a camera in people’s faces and expect them to be welcoming. That’s not the correct approach with things like this. You need to get to know the people and respect that this is their home which is why we spent the first 3 days simply socialising and getting to know Eigg’s people. Those initial days were key to making the film because they helped us to gain an insight into the lives of the islanders and form a connection with them before filming.
Did you find it easy to get around on an island where visitors can’t use cars?
The initial ride to our accommodation was an ordeal because I’d unintentionally booked somewhere far away from the ferry. Not only did we have all of our camera gear, but all of our clothes and it was 2 hours uphill cycle. We had to be really efficient with our time because we couldn’t organise to interview someone on one end of the island and then someone else afterwards on the opposite end. We had to look at the map and really plan. Despite this, getting around the island was a lot of fun. I’d not done that much exercise before the trip which didn’t help! Bikes are great, until the weather decides to turn. This meant cycling through six inches of snow at one point! We suggest investing in some tarpolines.
Would you say there is a certain niche of people who visit Eigg?
I think that tourists who visit Eigg are people who love the outdoors, small communities and nature. There is a wide range of wildlife on Eigg including rare species like Golden Eagles. I also saw a male Hen Harrier just looking out of the kitchen window which made my day!
In the video you showed wicker weaving, natural wool dying and craft beer production. Is there a lot of handmade craft on the island?
Yes, there is. There is a craft shop at the back of the village shop where they sell locally made items. Due to their renewable energy sources, the islanders are now able to sell their produce online. Before the community buy out there were only generators to rely on for power. This was an expensive and unreliable source, which only allowed limited hours of electricity a day, but now there is 24-hour electricity so the internet is widely available and reliable. It makes a huge difference to the type of businesses that can be sustained on the island. The younger generation would usually move to the mainland to find work, whereas now they seek to stay, and generations that once left are returning.
After visiting Eigg and being immersed in a wholly sustainable environment, has it made you rethink the way you live?
Before we went to Eigg, we assumed that the people there would all be eco-warriors and although there are a few, the majority of people there just try to live more practically which naturally results in them living a more economical and sustainable lifestyle.
I’m not a warrior myself but since I’ve returned from filming I’ve definitely made sure to recycle more effectively and reduce food waste. I like to do by bit for the environment.
Also, even though Eigg has the renewable energy scheme the islanders still have limits on the amount of power they can use so I’ve taken aspects of that back with me with little things like turning lights off in the house when I’m not using them and turning appliances off at the switch.
Have you plans to make another film?
We’d definitely like to work on another project and there is something in the pipeline. I absolutely love Scotland so maybe somewhere there again. I’d use any excuse to go back!