From an extinct volcano to shifting sands, experience the incredible variety of geology in Shetland UNESCO Global Geopark.
Sheltand UNESCO Global Geopark - 3 Billion years in the making
From the highest sheer cliffs in Britain to the best ‘hands on’ exposure of the Great Glen Fault, Shetland is packed with an incredibly varied geology spanning almost 3 billion years.
The geology of Shetland is more diverse than any other area its size. The astonishing variety of rocks tells an amazing tale, not just about Shetland but also about how the world itself has formed and changed. Epic events, like oceans opening and closing and the formation and erosion of mountains, are written into the geological record of these islands, and you don’t have to be an expert to see them.
Shetland has been on an incredible geological journey from close to the South Pole, across the equator to its current position at the crossroads of the North Atlantic. Over hundreds of millions of years, the climate and landscape have changed dramatically and echoes of these past environments have been literally set in stone. Who would have thought that this tiny windswept archipelago in the North Sea has played host to tropical seas, volcanoes, deserts, ice ages and ancient rivers?
The Shetland of today is home to an amazing biodiversity. Seals, otters, whales and dolphins can be spotted in the surrounding waters. Over a million seabirds inhabit the cliffs and moorland; many nest on the spectacular sea cliffs, such as those at Noss where erosion of the Old Red Sandstone cliffs has created stone ledges that make ideal nesting sites for a large Gannet population. 70 different bird species breed in the isles, and over 430 species have been recorded in total.
Shetland’s moorland is predominantly blanket bog, a globally rare habitat. The moorland provides breeding grounds for Great and Arctic Skuas, Snipe, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Red-throated Divers. A number of endemic plants and animals have evolved in Shetland, despite the fact it has only been separated from the rest of the UK for around 12,000 years. These include two island races of Wren, several races of Field Mouse and a subspecies of bumblebee.
It is not only plant and animal life that is influenced by geology; it has been fundamental to the development of many aspects of human life in the isles, from settlement patterns and building techniques to industries both on and offshore. Due to the lack of trees and abundance of stone, Shetland has some of the best-preserved archaeology in Europe. Aspects of the landscape have been so instrumental to man that Shetland place names often reflect these geological features.
Explore Shetland UNESCO Global Geopark
Shetland’s rocks and landscape are striking, but a little interpretation reveals the fascinating stories behind them. You can start your Geological Journey at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick, where displays tell the story of Shetland’s formation and demonstrate the fundamental links between geology and the natural and cultural heritage of the islands. Then get out and enjoy it for yourself with a range of trails, exhibits, events, guided tours.
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