Until 1914, Flotta was a quiet farming community. In 1910, a population of 431 included two blacksmiths, four carpenters and three dressmakers. But everything changed with the arrival of the Royal Navy in Scapa Flow at the start of WWI. 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.
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.
1974 saw the start of a transformation every bit as dramatic as those of 1914 and 1939, though rather longer lasting. The Occidental Group started construction of an oil terminal linked by 230km of pipeline to the Piper and Claymore Oilfields in the North Sea. The Flotta Oil Terminal started work in December 1976, and since then about 10% of the UK's oil output has come ashore here to be pumped into tankers for transport across the world.
The 223ft high gas flare is the most prominent feature on Flotta today, and a large part of the northern side of the island is taken up by the oil terminal. However, because it is confined to one island, the Flotta Terminal has a limited environmental impact on Orkney as a whole, while still providing several hundred jobs. Many of the workers commute from the Mainland on the fast launches operated by the terminal operators. Flotta is also served by the car ferry service between Houton on Mainland and Lyness on Hoy, so is one of the most accessible of the smaller islands.
It's been said that the attractions of Flotta are mostly for lovers of oil terminals, of wartime memorabilia and buildings, or for collectors of islands for their own sake. But Flotta also offers one of the most stunning views in Orkney, including much of the southern half of the archipelago. And it is the only place from where you can see both Stromness and Kirkwall at the same time!