Finding wildlife in Shetland

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See Scotland's stunning scenery brought to life

  • Gannets roosting at the bottom of cliffs on the Isle of Noss off the east coast of Bressay
    Gannets roosting on the Isle of Noss off the east coast of Bressay
  • Gannets roost on a rock shelf on the Isle of Noss
    Gannets roost on a rock shelf on the Isle of Noss
  • Puffins at Sumburgh Head, Mainland
    Puffins at Sumburgh Head, Mainland
  • A seal in Lerwick Harbour, Mainland
    A seal in Lerwick Harbour, Mainland
  • A Shetland pony foal with its mother
    Shetland ponies

Some of the British Isles’ greatest natural spectacles are to be found within the Shetland isles. There are wildlife tours aplenty with over 100 islands which make up the Shetland archipelago to explore, each with its very own wildlife speciality.

With such a diverse range of landscapes and habitats, from sheers cliffs to tranquil beaches, it is little surprising that Shetland is home to a wide variety of important species. Discover one of the best places in the world for birdwatching, and observe incredible marine life and rare, indigenous breeds at close quarters. Visitors can expect to see some fantastic wildlife sightings throughout the year in Shetland.

Towering cliffs

Shetland has the highest sheer cliffs in Britain, which attract over a million seabirds. Around the coastline, hundreds of species of birds can be seen, including around 350,000 puffins who share the sea and the sky with guillemots, great skuas, fulmars and many others. Watch as gannets dive at breakneck speed into the frigid waters of the North Sea and travel to Mousa to see swarms of storm petrels returning to their nesting grounds in the island’s Iron Age broch under the cover of darkness. For the best birdwatching opportunities, visit the internationally important and largest seabird colonies at the Hermaness, Noss, Fair Isle and Foula nature reserves.

Marine mammals

A diverse range of marine mammals may be seen in rich waters around Shetland. About 6,000 common and over 3,000 grey seals can be found around Shetland's coastlines of Mousa, Scatness and Sumburgh Head which are home to both species. Take a boat trip out to Mousa Sound and Yell Sound and you’re likely to see harbour porpoises and the occasional school of dolphins. With a bit of luck, you might even see orcas chasing seals close inshore.

Visit in summer when the sun barely dips below the horizon for the chance to see the elusive sea otter. Watch these usually nocturnal animals teaching their young to hunt for their prey in the shallows or in freshwater lochs and burns. There are around 1,000 otters across Shetland, making the islands one of its main strongholds in the UK.

Rare flora

The nutrient-rich terrain provides an abundance of wild flowers which cover the landscape, clinging to cliffs and carpeting hills, meadows and marches with a colourful display. Over 800 species of flowering plants, some rare and some native to Shetland, are all testimony to the rich natural beauty of the islands.

Native residents

See Shetland’s instantly recognisable ponies in their native surroundings as they roam freely over heather-clad hillsides and secluded beaches. Standing at just 42 inches, these diminutive yet hardy creatures are one of many species unique to the island that have evolved to suit their habitat.

Find more information on Scotland’s wildlife including tips on how to spot it and for booking wildlife holidays and tours, visit the Wild Scotland website.