Shetland is one of Europe's key wilderness areas and both geography and climate combine to make it a mecca for wildlife-watchers. Inevitably, the islands are a haven for many species of birdlife, particularly seabirds which roost in their tens of thousands in the National Nature Reserves at Sumburgh Head, Noss and Hermaness.
You'll also find otters here along the coasts and of course, Shetland's famous native ponies while the Keen of Hamar reserve is home to a unique collection of rare plants that have adapted to survive the blasted landscape.
Sumburgh Head National Nature Reserve:
Sumburgh Head RSPB reserve is the most accessible 'seabird cities' in Shetland and is home to thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and shags in the breeding season.
Sumburgh Head is located at the southern tip of mainland Shetland with the majestic 100 metre cliffs offering a fantastic, unobstructed view of the seabird colonies and marine life surrounding it.
Visit these cliffs during the summer and you'll be privileged to witness the amazing spectacle of thousands of breeding seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, shags and fulmars. Sumburgh Head is a great place to watch for whales and dolphins, particularly minke whales and orcas.
Noss National Nature Reserve:
One of Shetland's main natural nature reserves, the dramatic island of Noss with its towering cliffs supports an incredible array of nesting seabirds.
Noss National Nature Reserve is a spectacular island reserve which is home to vast colonies of nesting seabirds.
The dramatic island of Noss with its towering cliffs supports an incredible array of nesting seabirds. In spring and summer, gannets, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes congregate on the cliffs. Great Skuas, which nest further inland, can also be seen hunting their prey overhead. Follow the coastal path which meanders through wildflower-strewn grassland and keep a watchful eye for porpoises and otters offshore.
Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve:
Resembling a lunar landscape, explore this remarkable nature reserve on Unst, home to some of the rarest plants in Britain.
This unique nature reserve may appear barren, but is in fact home to a unique collection of plants that have adapted to survive upon the rare serpentine rock that covers the land. These include Edmondston’s chickweed, which is found nowhere else in the world, and moss campion with its pink flowers which bloom in spring. The best time to view these plants is from mid-May to early July.
Hermaness National Nature Reserve:
Hermaness NNR is a prime birdwatching location in Shetland, being home to huge colonies of puffins, gannets and other species including the infamous 'bonxie' skua.
Overlooking Muckle Flugga, Britain's most northerly point, the Hermaness National Nature Reserve provides a haven for thousands of seabirds.
This remote island reserve offers a dramatic cliff-top setting in which to view an incredible array of birdlife. Located about an hour’s walk through grassy moorland from the visitor centre at the old lighthouse shore station, the cliffs are home an array of nesting seabirds including fulmars, gulls, shags, gannets, puffins and kittiwakes. During the summer months the moorland becomes a carpet of blue as spring squill comes into bloom before turning a deep pink with the arrival of flowering sea pinks. Heather, crowberry, bog bilberry, mosses and other vegetation can be seen growing at this time of year along with great skuas, or ‘bronxies’ as they are locally known, soaring overhead. Although most of the seabirds depart by autumn, gannets can still be seen and grey seals are often sighted reclining on the rocky shore.