Something For Everyone At July’s Shetland Nature Festival

by Alastair Hamilton -

The tenth Shetland Nature Festival, running from Saturday 1 to Sunday 9 July, offers a great range of events, all of them celebrating the islands’ wonderful natural environment. Some events are free and don’t need booking in advance..

The festival gets under way with one of those free events, the Noss Open Day, which has had a place in the calendar for decades. Noss is a National Nature Reserve and its seabird cliffs are unquestionably one of the highlights of Shetland. To get there, visitors need to take the ferry from Lerwick to Bressay, then make use of the free transport provided, first to the east side of Bressay, then by inflatable boat across a narrow stretch of water to Noss. A walk around the island, with some time spent contemplating those cliffs, takes around four hours, a little longer if you want to do some more intensive bird-watching.

its seabird cliffs are unquestionably one of the highlights of Shetland

More of Shetland’s highlights feature Sunday 2 July. At the Keen of Hamar in Unst, the gently-sloping serpentine scree is often likened to a lunar landscape, but it’s home to a delicate little plant that grows only here, Edmondston’s Mouse-Eared Chickweed. There’s another chance to visit the site, aimed at children and families, on Saturday 8 July. At Kergord, in Weisdale, Shetland’s largest area of woodland is the setting for ‘tree magic’, which explores the place of trees in folklore and religion, with some magical storytelling.

Another event on the first Sunday offers an introduction to sea-cliff climbing, something which is gaining in popularity. There’s also a songwriting workshop at Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, where Jenny Sturgeon will introduce the skills involved to anyone interested: no previous musical experience is needed.

The festival continues on Monday 3 July with rockpooling, a wet and wild coasteering day and, on the island of Mousa, a guided walk organised by the RSPB that introduces the birds and sea creatures as well as offering a chance to look closely at the best broch (an iron age tower) to be found anywhere. There are sessions for younger festival-goers at Shetland Museum and Archives, where they can explore the museum’s collection of sea life and make turtles and seahorses.

On Tuesday 4th, Lerwick’s flower park is the setting for an exploration of pollinators. There’s another chance to explore Noss, this time on a guided walk, more rockpooling and an intriguing session on coastal cooking, on one of Lerwick’s beaches.

Plants feature in two events on Wednesday 5th, a botanical art workshop and a children’s introduction to the museum’s herbarium. There’s also a craft session on the theme of waders and a worm-charming challenge. The learning team from Edinburgh’s Our Dynamic Earth will lead an exploration of earth’s most extreme environments, looking at how the lessons we can learn from them might help us track down life elsewhere in the universe; there are more opportunities to attend this event later in the week.

Many visitors to Shetland hope to see our elusive otters. Though there’s never a guarantee, it may help to join the guided walk in Yell on Thursday 6 July, on which an expert will point out the signs of otter activity to look out for. A rather easier target is the beautiful Red-necked Phalarope which breed on the pools of Fetlar; you can find out about its astonishing migration and learn lots more about the island, too.

Events on Friday 7 July take place in Shetland’s northernmost island and the south mainland. In Unst, an evening lecture will explore the consequences for the island of a continental collision 500 million years ago. At Sumburgh Head, there’s a guided walk with the RSPB warden, looking at Guillemots, Shags, Fulmars and, of course, Puffins. Not far away, another guided walk will search for fossil fish in what were once Devonian sand dunes, as well as watching today’s local wildlife.

Unst is also the venue for a guided walk on Saturday 8 July, when there’s an opportunity to join a guided walk on Hermaness, another of Shetland’s outstanding bird reserves. From here, you can see Britain’s northernmost outposts, Muckle Flugga Lighthouse and, beyond, Out Stack. Meanwhile, also in Unst, there’s more worm charming.

The festival draws to a close on Sunday 9 July with another visit to Hermaness, this time focusing not on birds but on plants, mammals and mini-beasts, the challenge being to record as many living species as possible.

you can see Britain’s northernmost outposts

Geology Project Officer Rory Tallack said: “As always, the schedule is designed to cater for everyone, from children and families to wildlife enthusiasts. The festival is run in partnership with European Geoparks Week, Shetland being a designated geopark.

Shetland’s natural environment is there for everyone to enjoy all year round, and there are many events, such as guided walks, throughout the summer. However, the Shetland Nature Festival offers the chance to visit outstanding sites, with expert guidance and a generous measure of fun thrown in.

The calendar of events is available online and tickets – where they’re required – are on sale now at this booking page. On that page, just look for the logo below in the left-hand column to find all the events.

Posted in: Heritage