Rachel Dowse’s talk on starlings
This was the year when the numbers took off further than ever. There were over 200 people to hear Rachel Dowse’s talk on starlings, and for the genetics day with Jim Wilson and his team, the Baptist Church was packed all day, with in addition a big turn out of people to hear afternoon talks running in parallel in the Town Hall.

Part of the increase was due to the number of groups coming. The talk on starlings was part of a collaboration with ASLE – the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment – who brought their biennial postgraduate conference to Orkney for the Festival. Prof. Jim Wilson brought his genetics team from Edinburgh to combine a study retreat and awayday with Festival presentations. Prof. Karim Labib did something similar with his research group from Dundee, and Prof. Alexander Lenz brought a mix of staff and postgraduate researchers from Durham.

Then there was the music, with the St Andrews New Music Ensemble putting on three concerts with a team of instrumentalists and singers, part of the university’s Music Planet series highlighting its strengths in music and environmental science. With musicians from Ireland as well, with local musicians and actors, there was a rich mix of music and dramatised lectures.

There were various opportunities to enjoy Orkney food and drink, at the opening lunch and at the afternoon tea at Skaill House, and at the daily lunches at the Peedie Kirk with the One O’Clock Toasts all highlighting notable Orkney women as we look forward to the publication later this year of the new edition of The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. We heard about the making of whisky and gin in Orkney and elsewhere in events organised by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

The Year of Young People 2018 provide the opportunity for so much, not only in varied events but also in the development of a new look for the Festival with the team of young people who emerged to chair and introduce all the events. Young people from Orkney and elsewhere were to the fore in various events, including reports on the progress of hydrogen technology for transport and on electricity generation from kites.

There was also the Heriot-Watt Year of the Sea and a range of events on marine life and resources. There was a workshop on seaweeds, limpets and barnacles, and a walk to the Brough of Deerness, to see wildlife and study microscopic plankton. There was a report on the Arctic permafrost and the story of Shackleton’s Antarctic journey.

And there were speakers and visitors from many places, across the UK and Scotland and travelling in from the North and South Isles of Orkney, and from many countries, from Ireland to Italy, Iceland to Uzbekistan, Slovenia to the Netherlands, Canada to Australia, Ghana to New Zealand.

All were warmly welcome, and made possible a memorable seven days in September.

For a look back you can download the programme 2018 here.