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Title: Flotta  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: South Walls, Fara, Orkney, Hoy, Orkney, Switha
Collection: Islands of the Orkney Islands, Ports and Harbours of Scotland, Ports and Harbours of the North Sea
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Norse name Flottey[1] or Flott-øy[2]
Meaning of name "flat island" (Norse)
An aerial view of Flotta from the south-west. The oil terminal is visible to the centre-left, with the airstrip further to the left. South Walls is at the bottom and bottom left, and Switha at the extreme right.
An aerial view of Flotta from the south-west. The oil terminal is visible to the centre-left, with the airstrip further to the left. South Walls is at the bottom and bottom left, and Switha at the extreme right.
Flotta is located in Orkney Islands
Flotta shown within Orkney
OS grid reference
Physical geography
Island group Orkney
Area 876 hectares (3.4 sq mi)
Area rank 57 [3]
Highest elevation West Hill 58 metres (190 ft)
Political geography
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Orkney Islands
Population 80[4]
Population rank 48 [3]
Population density 9.1 people/km2[2][4]
Largest settlement Whome
References [2][5]

Flotta is a small island in Orkney, Scotland, lying in Scapa Flow. The island is known for its large oil terminal and is linked by Orkney Ferries to Houton on the Orkney Mainland and Lyness and Longhope on Hoy. The island has a population of 80.


  • History 1
    • World War I and II 1.1
    • North Sea oil 1.2
  • Geography and environment 2
    • Flora and fauna 2.1
  • Community 3
  • Economy 4
  • Transport 5
    • Marine 5.1
    • Airport 5.2
    • Road 5.3
  • References 6
    • Notes 6.1
  • External links 7


At the turn of the 20th century, the island was a quiet rural community like many other small islands of Orkney, but its sheltered location led to three major upheavals in the island in the century.

Until 1914, Flotta was a quiet farming community. In 1910, a population of 431 included two blacksmiths, four carpenters and three dressmakers.

World War I and II

The Buchanan Battery on Flotta

Everything changed with the arrival of the Royal Navy in Scapa Flow at the start of World War I. There is a photograph held by the Imperial War Museum in London that shows a boxing match taking place on Flotta in front of a wartime audience of 10,000 people.

During World War I, the island was home to a naval base. The dreadnought HMS Vanguard sank nearby in 1917, reputedly the worst maritime disaster in UK waters. In WW2, the island was again used as a military base.

1918 saw the mass exodus of Navy personnel, and 1939 saw their return. After the second world war the island had good piers and facilities, but a slowly declining population. It took until 1970 for fresh water to be piped to the island from Hoy.

North Sea oil

Flotta oil terminal

In 1974, Occidental Petroleum started construction of the island's oil terminal. This became the second largest major oil terminal serving the UK North Sea, the largest being Sullom Voe in Shetland.

It took only two years from the start of construction until the first of the crude oil was pumped into the terminal, during which thousands of workers were posted at the "camp" in Flotta to complete the facility as Britain's thirst for oil was growing by the day. The Flotta oil terminal was opened by the energy minister, Tony Benn MP, on 11 January 1977.[6]

The oil terminal provides the landing for the Piper and Claymore fields pipeline system. In addition, it provides a safe facility for the receipt and trans-shipment of oil produced from the UK Atlantic margins.

Geography and environment

Flotta lies at the southern end of Scapa Flow, with Calf of Flotta being at the north-east corner of the island. The island of Fara is 300 m (980 ft) across Weddel Sound, to the north-west. Meanwhile, Switha, South Walls and Hoy are each approximately 1 km (0.62 mi) from Flotta, to the south, south-west and west, respectively. Nevi Skerry is situated 1 km (0.62 mi) east of Flotta in the Sound of Hoxa. South Ronaldsay is approximately 2.5 km (1.6 mi) east of Flotta, also across the sound of Hoxa. The highest point on Flotta is West Hill at 58 m (190 ft), adjacent to the wind turbine. The main population centre is at Whome, which is situated in the centre of the southern half of the island. To the north, Whome is separated from the Golta Peninsula by Pan Hope, a tidal bay.

Flora and fauna

Flotta has a seal colony at Stanger Head, at the south-east corner of the island.[7] The Royal Navy planted 1000 spruce trees during WWII, which are situated between Sutherland Pier and the oil terminal, in the vicinity of the Naval Cinema. About 10% of the spruce trees survive.[7] The oil company has also planted 40,000 trees and shrubs.[7] Much of the western side of the island is heath, as is the Golta Peninsula to the north-east of the island.


The settlement of Whome on Flotta

The island has a usually resident population of 80 people in 48 households.[4] The main centre of population is in the settlement of Whome. In June 2010, the island had to close the community primary school because there were no children of that age left on the island.

Healthcare services are provided by the Stromness Surgery, with a nurse practitioner based on Flotta.[8] Flotta Fire Station, which is situated next to the school, formally closed on 25 October 2012.[9] The service provided by the fire station was transferred to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service on 1 April 2013.[10]

The 2.3MW wind turbine, which was installed in 2010, will provide the community with a cash contribution of £100,000 over the lifetime of the turbine.[11]


An aerial view of Flotta Oil Terminal in 2007
The wind turbine on West Hill

The main industry on the island is energy production and distribution. Talisman Sinopec Energy UK Limited’s Flotta Oil Terminal, processes oil and gas from the North Sea for onward transfer. The oil terminal has been operational for 36 years.[12] Opus Plus Ltd., an environmental research company, is also based within the oil terminal complex. Supplied by German manufacturer Enercon, the 2.3MW Flotta wind turbine was brought online in June 2010[13] at a cost of £3 million.[11] The turbine, which is connected to the National Grid,[13] has a hub height of 64 m (210 ft) and a rotor diameter of 71 m (233 ft).[11]

The Orkney Island Council provides employment to several people on Flotta. Farming remains an important source of revenue for the island economy, along with handicraft. A small number of residents are also employed on the Orkney Mainland.[12]

The island is served by one shop, which operates as a general store, a post office and a petrol station.[14] The nearest supermarkets are situated in Kirkwall, on the Orkney Mainland, which has branches of Tesco and Lidl.

The island has a mains water supply, and boreholes are also used. Flotta didn't have a mains electricity supply until 1977, although most households had had their own electricity generators for many years beforehand.[15] Mains electricity is supplied by Scottish Hydro Electric.[16] The island is connected to the BT telephone network.[16] Mobile phone connections can be an issue.[12][16] Broadband internet connection is possible on the island.[12] There is no mains gas supply on Flotta,[16] although coal and heating oil are delivered regularly, and Calor Gas is stored at the shop.[12]

In 2005, Flotta was considered to have the potential of expanding the island economy with heritage tourism, and with a particular regard for the WWII-era structures which are spread across the island.[17] The possible development of a marina was also considered, at that time.[17]



Sutherland Pier

The island is served by Orkney Ferries with ferry links to Houton on the Orkney Mainland, and Lyness and Longhope on Hoy. The ferries berth at Gibraltar Pier,[18] also known as Heyspan Pier,[19] which is to the north-west of the island in Weddel Sound. Orkney Ferries' South Isles service is usually provided by MV Hoy Head, whilst MV Thorsvoe serves as a relief vessel.[20] Flotta is situated a few miles from St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay, which has a direct ferry service to mainland Scotland. However, there is no direct public ferry service between Flotta and South Ronaldsay, across the Sound of Hoxa. For a transport connection to the Scottish mainland, one must instead travel by ferry to Houton, and then by road to either Stromness or to St. Margaret's Hope, via a much more circuitous route.

A couple of hundred metres to the south-west of Gibraltar Pier is Sutherland Pier, also in Weddel Sound. Sutherland Pier is used by local vessels of similar size to the ferries. A third public pier, Pan Pier, is situated at the southern side of Pan Hope, the island's central bay. Pan Pier is used by smaller private boats. The oil terminal has its own jetty on the northern side of the island, which has the capability to accommodate oil tankers.


Flotta Airstrip terminal building, undergoing maintenance

Flotta Airstrip is situated on the western side of the island, with the IATA code of FLH.[21] The asphalt runway orientation is at 16/34, with an elevation of 70 feet (21 m), and is 2,490 feet (760 m) in length.[22] The airstrip also has a helipad, adjacent to the eastern side of the northern end of the runway.

The first landing on Flotta was made by a Loganair Islander aircraft, G-AWNR, on 28 May 1976.[6] The first scheduled air service to Flotta was flown via Hoy on 1 March 1977 and the service was flown by another Loganair Islander aircraft, G-AXVR.[6] Crew change operations for the Occidental Petroleum oil terminal were also performed by a British Airways HS748.[6] Loganair's scheduled services to Flotta were discontinued in 1981, as a direct result of free ferry services being provided by the oil company.[6]

On 20 April 1983, a charter flight from Aberdeen Airport of an Air Ecosse de Havilland DHC-6, aircraft registration G-STUD, crashed at Flotta Airstrip. The aircraft was caught in a strong crosswind as it landed, which caused the crash. There were no serious injuries, and no fatalities, amongst the two crew and ten passengers.[23][24][25]


The main roads on Flotta are the B9045 and the B9046, which connect the ferry terminal with the settlement of Whome. Flotta has no causeways similar to the Churchill Barriers, which could allow vehicles to be driven to the nearby islands. All road vehicles are reliant on using the ferry to the Orkney Mainland, and to Hoy.



  1. ^ Anderson, Joseph (ed.) (1873) The Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. Edmonston and Douglas. The Internet Archive. Retrieved 26 August 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate.  
  3. ^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and were listed in the 2011 census.
  4. ^ a b c National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  5. ^  
  6. ^ a b c d e Warner, Guy (2005). Orkney by Air - A photographic journey through time. Renfrewshire: Kea Publishing. pp. 48–52.  
  7. ^ a b c "The Islands of Orkney brochure" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  8. ^ "General Practices (GPs) - NHS Orkney". NHS Orkney. Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  9. ^ "Minutes of the meeting of Flotta Community Council 22 OCTOBER 2012" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  10. ^ "Fire Station Details - Flotta fire station". Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  11. ^ a b c "Home: Flotta Wind Power". Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "Flotta - The flat island". Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  13. ^ a b "History: Flotta Wind Power". Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  14. ^ "Flotta - The flat island". flickr. Retrieved 2014-09-11. 
  15. ^ "George Barnett's Travels Part 2, Lurdy, Flotta". Retrieved 2014-09-11. 
  16. ^ a b c d "Welcome to Orkney". Retrieved 2014-09-11. 
  17. ^ a b "Community Engagement, Report from Flotta - October 2005". Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  18. ^ "Flotta - Gibraltar Pier" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  19. ^ "Heyspan Pier". Geograph. Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  20. ^ "The Fleet". Orkney Ferries. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  21. ^ "FLH - Flotta Isle, Orkney Isles, Scotland, GB - Airport". Great Circle Mapper. Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  22. ^ "Flotta". Retrieved 2014-09-07. 
  23. ^ "Orkney Image Library - Flotta Plane Crash". Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  24. ^ "Aircraft Accident Report 8/83" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  25. ^ "ASN Aircraft accident de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 310 G-STUD Flotta Airport (FLH)". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 2014-09-08. 

External links

  • Flotta web guide

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