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Religion, music and sport are important aspects of local culture, and there are numerous designated conservation areas to protect the natural environment.It incorporates Lewis in the north and Harris in the south, both of which are frequently referred to as individual islands, although they are connected by land.The Western Isles became part of the Norse kingdom of the , which lasted for over 400 years until sovereignty was transferred to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth in 1266.Control of the islands was then held by clan chiefs, principal of whom were the Mac Leods, Mac Donalds, Mackenzies and Mac Neils.
In 2003 Scottish Natural Heritage undertook culls of hedgehogs in the area, but these were halted in 2007; trapped animals are now relocated to the mainland.
Much of the archipelago is a protected habitat, including both the islands and the surrounding waters.
There are 53 Sites of Special Scientific Interest of which the largest are Loch an Duin, North Uist (15,100 hectares (37,000 acres)) and North Harris (12,700 hectares (31,000 acres)).
The Highland Clearances of the 19th century had a devastating effect on many communities and it is only in recent years that population levels have ceased to decline.
Much of the land is now under local control and commercial activity is based on tourism, crofting, fishing, and weaving.