'Eco-tourism' is growing rapidly in Shetland as more and more travellers discover the natural wonders on Britain's northern doorstep.

Once you arrive in Shetland, Scottish Natural Heritage wardens are available to take you on guided walks and answer your questions. Shetland Amenity Trust's countryside rangers and RSPB staff are also here to help the visitor with an interest in wildlife. Several private guides also operate in the islands, some offering outings that focus on seeing, say, otters.

The top attractions are close encounters with seabirds and sea mammals but Shetland also has fascinating plants, insects and underwater wildlife.

The Birds...

Shetland's seabird colonies are world-famous because they're so big, so diverse, so scenically spectacular and so accessible. No fewer than 21 of the 24 British seabird species occur in Shetland.

Not so well known are Shetland's nationally important populations of wading birds, particularly in summer. Breeding species include Oystercatcher, Redshank, Snipe, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Curlew and Red-necked Phalarope.

In the spring and autumn migration seasons, almost anywhere in Shetland can turn up rare birds, but undoubtedly your best base is Fair Isle, with its internationally renowned bird observatory.

Shetland is the best place in Western Europe to see:

  • Puffins (late April - early August)
  • Great Skuas (Late April - October)
  • Arctic Skuas (May - September)
  • Storm Petrels (late May - early August)
  • Red-necked Phalaropes (May - early August)
  • Whimbrels (May - August)
  • Red-throated Divers (April - September)
  • Great Northern Divers (October - April with some summer stragglers)
  • Slavonian Grebes (October - March)
  • Long-tailed Duck (October - May)
  • Wading birds (all year round but best in summer)

‚Äč By 'best' we mean there are large and diverse colonies where you have a very good chance of seeing the birds at close range, without causing undue disturbance.

Just come back from Shetland, had a fantastic time for three weeks, great scenery, and while there saw a basking shark, otters and loads of gannets.

...And The Beasts

For guaranteed, close-up views of both species of British seals, Shetland is as good as it gets. In the case of otters you'll need patience and luck but your chances of a sighting are better here than anywhere else in Western Europe.

We don't give a guarantee of seeing Killer Whales (Orcas) but between May and August your chances in Shetland are the best in the UK. The same goes for White-sided Dolphins and Minke Whales.

Shetland is also a brilliant place to watch sea mammals:

  • Common Seals (all year round)
  • Grey Seals (all year round)
  • Harbour Porpoises (all year round but best in June - September)
  • Otters (all year round)
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