New community wildlife project
by Promote Shetland -
An aspect of Shetland that attracts tourists from all over the world to our islands is our natural heritage. It’s an important part of our identity and brings economic value through industries like fishing and aquaculture, tourism and recreation. Now locals are being encouraged to get up close to nature too, with the launch of an exciting new initiative.
Shetland Community Wildlife Group (SCWG) aims to get islanders involved in nature, learn new skills and help collect meaningful scientific data. The group was set up by the NAFC Marine Centre UHI, with funding support from Heritage Lottery Fund and advice from Scottish Natural Heritage and Shetland Amenity Trusts’ Biological Records Centre. The three-year project has been made possible by money raised by players of the National Lottery.
"We want to gather as much information as we can about the wildlife in Shetland to help us understand the species and their distribution in a local context," explains Kathryn Allan, project manager. "We will also be collaborating with many national organisations to share data and build up a greater understanding of the UK’s wildlife."
There are a few knowledge gaps the group hope to fill. These include finding out more about the distribution of shark and skate species around Shetland. They also want to build a better picture of the number of harbour porpoises – an under-recorded species in Shetland – and understand how they use different areas of the coast at different times of the year. Other species they're keen to collect data on are bumblebees and butterflies.
"Two new species of bumblebee have colonised Shetland in recent years: the Buff-tailed Bumblebee in 2012 and the Early Bumblebee in 2018," explains Kathryn. "Currently we only have records of the Early Bumblebee in Lerwick and Bressay and would be very interested to find out if their range is expanding within the isles."
Data collected will include species types, numbers, behaviour and indicators such as eggcases, footprints and spraint. And the good news is that you don't need to be a wildlife expert to get involved. The project and data collection are open to everyone.
"We are committed to finding ways to make the SCWG and Shetland’s natural environment accessible to everybody,” says Kathryn. "For each of our projects we give full details of what to do and how to record sightings and we are always on hand to give help and advice."
The group launched in April, just as lockdown kicked in. This means that some events and group projects have had to be put on hold, but there are some activities people can get involved in now while out and about on the islands.
“Bumblebees and butterflies are easy to record from gardens and walks. And, as important pollinators, recording the different species found in Shetland and how they are changing (for instance due to climate change) is very important,” says Kathryn. “For those near the coast, they could take part in the Shetland Shark and Skate Eggcase Hunt and report sightings of any cetaceans they are lucky enough to spot.”
Once the restrictions have been relaxed, SCWG will officially launch and larger projects such as Shetland-wide porpoise surveys and working with Whale and Dolphin Conservation to learn how to undertake a cetacean Shorewatch will begin. Activities will be varied and spread around locations covering most of Shetland.