By Alex Garrick-WrightFebruary 7th 2019

Shetland’s incomparable wildlife is one of our most impressive assets, but with another jaw-dropping voe, cliff or moorland around every corner, it can be hard to work out the best places to experience it. Alex Garrick-Wright asks a number of local wildlife experts about their favourite places to experience Shetland’s nature.

Images by Brydon Thomason

Richard Shucksmith

Richard is an award-winning wildlife photographer, ecologist, writer and wildlife guide renowned for his stunning otter and seabird photography, and was one of the local wildlife experts consulted by the BBC for Wild Shetland. View Richard's website

“That’s a difficult question! It depends what you want to see. You can be going to Hermaness, to the seabird colonies at Hermaness and Noss, if you want to see seabirds. If you want to see killer whales, you just need a bit of luck, and they could turn up anywhere. Otters; they’re everywhere, really- any of the voes on Mainland Shetland all the way up to Unst.

“All the species you find in Shetland are not all in the same place. So, a lot of people come to Shetland to see red-necked phalaropes, a lot of people want to see red-throated divers. You see them a lot on a lot of lochans dotted all around Shetland- we have the highest density of breeding red-throated divers in Scotland. Otters, like I say, you can pick them up all over, and seabirds? We have amazing gannetries, and Hermaness is spectacular.

“I would say that probably most people who come to Shetland, a ‘must’ place to go would be to go to Hermaness. Actually, some of the filming we did, and some of what will appear is at Hermaness.

“I’d say go to Hermaness, go to Noss, go to St Ninian’s, go to Eshaness. Explore some of the beaches and voes if you want to see otters, and with killer whales just basically get to Shetland, get on the social media sites, on the Shetland Orcas Facebook page and get looking!”

Sally Huband

Sally is a local nature writer and recipient of the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award for Narrative Non-Fiction. Read her blog

“Each summer I make my way to Sumburgh Head. I love to watch and listen to the seabirds here, it is such a dramatic but accessible site. Last summer, I stayed until dusk to watch the guillemot chicks jump off the cliffs and then head out to sea with their parents. It was incredible to see the chicks jump and plummet, their fall broken only a little by their small outstretched wings. There is always the chance of seeing grey seals and cetaceans too, Sumburgh Head is a natural viewpoint. If cetaceans are proving hard to find, the outline of the island of Fair Isle on the horizon is always captivating, as are the puffins that nest in burrows very close to the visitor centre.

“In winter, I head to sandy bays where there is a good chance of seeing calloo, long-tailed ducks, stunningly beautiful sea ducks that breed in the Arctic and search for all white mountain hare on the hill ground of the Mainland.”

Brydon Thomason

Brydon is an Unst-based wildlife writer, photographer and tour guide, as well as a blogger for Promote Shetland. Brydon has been an expert consultant for a number of nature documentaries including the BBC’s Countryfile and the recent Wild Shetland. View his website

“Without doubt, if [someone] had just one day, to get the best feeling of Shetland, I’d say Hermaness. Without taking into consideration the wildlife, it’s the most northerly point in the British Isles, so it has that amazing atmosphere of being as far north in Britain as you could be. You’ve got a beautiful walk out across the moorland, so you’ve got a real variety, a real diversity of habitats there with the moorland species, and all the bonxies [Great Skua].

“Then, when you get out onto the cliffs, it just blows you away... You stand there and feel like you’re at a festival or something, there’s just so much life, so much intensity from all the breeding gannets. And of course, you’ve got the Tammy Norries [Puffins] all the way across the cliff tops as well on a good day. And you could walk another half an hour, and you’re out as far as you can be, out towards the lighthouse, and again there’s more spectacular gannetries there.

“You never know what you’re going to see at Hermaness as well. Many a day we’re up there and although you’ve got everything there more or less at your feet, we’re always scanning off-shore because you just never know what cetaceans you’re going to pick up there. Quite regularly we’ll pick up things like Minke Whales, or Risso’s Dolphin, or fairly regular Orca sightings as well. It has it all. I suppose Hermaness would be the place without doubt. The only thing missing is an otter. I have seen them up there but it’s very, very rare.”

Jon Dunn
Jon is a natural history writer, wildlife tour guide, photographer and author, whose works include the highly-acclaimed Orchid Summer and Britain’s Sea Mammals. View his website

“My favourite place in Shetland to see wildlife is, all at once, both one of the more remote destinations and yet, once you're there, incredibly accessible. This is the wonderful paradox that's the Keen of Hamar on Unst - a hillside of serpentine rock fragments that looks, at first glance, like the surface of some alien planet, barren and inhospitable.

“Look closer, though, and rather than bumping into a Mars rover you're going to find an incredible array of small flowering plants ranging from scarce orchids to alpine species usually found on Scandinavian mountain tops; yet here they're growing just a few metres above sea level. There's even a plant found nowhere else on Earth but this area of Unst - with snow white flowers set above magnificently hairy purple leaves, Edmonston's Chickweed is a must-see for the visiting naturalist.

“I like to take my time and wander aimlessly across the hillside, stopping whenever I see something interesting or new. You never know what you'll find next there, nestling amongst the warm stones at your feet - it's like a botanical treasure hunt. Better still, you'll see other wildlife there too - maybe you'll stumble across the down-filled nest of an Eider duck, or see the wing-dragging distraction display of a Ringed Plover. The Keen of Hamar is a place full of surprises.

“Happily for the visitor, Unst makes for a great day out - the ferry timetable means, if you plan carefully, you can spend almost a full day there, take in the joys of the Keen of Hamar, have lunch at Victoria's Vintage Tea Rooms (highly recommend!) and maybe explore some of the island's other hidden treasures too before you head back to Mainland. Then again, it's a great place to spend a few days if you can. I have Shetland friends who go there for a summer holiday!”