Flora and fauna in Orkney

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  • Flowers on Eday, Orkney
    Flowers on Eday, Orkney
  • Flora around the Ring of Brodgar
    Flora around the Ring of Brodgar
  • Daisies at Sandgarth, Shapinsay
    Daisies at Sandgarth, Shapinsay
  • A couple sit and admire the sea view, Yesnaby, Orkney
    Exploring Orkney's coast, Yesnaby

A diverse range of habitats in Orkney nurture many wild flowers including some plants which are rarely seen. There are significant areas of maritime heath in Orkney which support species of plant particularly suited to the salty and exposed conditions.

Orkney’s diverse range of habitats is ideal for plants as well as wildlife and a wide range of wild flowers bloom each year in the islands.

In the warmer months Orkney’s unique flora takes centre stage. Beautiful wild flowers bloom in summer meadows and farmland verges display their vibrant colours.

First to appear is the yellow flowers of coltsfoot, celandine, marsh marigolds and primroses, followed by the red and pink flowers of thrift, campion and orchids. Later on in the year, grass-of-Parnassus come out and the rare great yellow bumblebee enjoys the sandy and clover-rich habitats of islands such as South Ronaldsay and Sanday.

The rare Scottish primrose is Orkney’s most famous plant and grows wild only in Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland on maritime heath. Scattered like jewels across the closely cropped grass, their bluey-purple petals and yellow 'eye' are unmistakable and unique. You can see the flowers of the rare primula scotica or Scottish primrose at the Hill of White Hamars in South Walls, a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve. Other sites include Yesnaby, the west coasts of Rousay and Westray, and North Hill on Papa Westray.

Other fragile flowers flourish here too. The winds of winter are more than made up for by the long, light days of spring and summer, and the moorlands, the burnsides and even the verges of quiet country roads are rich in orchids, irises and wild roses.

Dedicated cultivation and farming has resulted in a combination of farmland and rugged wilderness, woven together to form a perfect mix of wild flowers and high quality crops.

Visit Hoxa Head on South Ronaldsay to see sea pinks, spring squill and Scots lovage, the North Hoy RSPB reserve to see maritime heath and Arctic alpines and Mull Head Local Nature Reserve to see orchids and grass-of-Parnassus.

Explore Orkney's woods to see more plants with Britain's most northerly wood and exotic trees and shrubs. Binscarth Wood is Orkney’s largest woodland area. There is a lovely walk through the woods and past Wasdale loch. Olav's Wood on South Ronaldsay is a mixture of woodland, heathland, open grassland, waterside and wet woodland and freshwater pools and streams. The woodland is of both horticultural and wildlife interest as trees and shrubs from many parts of the world have been successfully established here.

Berriedale Wood on Hoy is considered to be the most northern natural woodland in Britain, with downy birch, aspen, hazel, rowan and willow trees. Happy Valley is a delightful woodland garden which was looked after and opened to the public by Edwin Harrold for 50 years and is now run by the council. You can find out more on woodland walks in Orkney with a downloadable PDF created by Outdoor Orkney.