Calling all swimmers, divers and snorkellers!

We are looking for records of rare and important marine life. In Shetland we are very fortunate to have a long and varied coastline, home to a wide variety of marine life. Compared to other parts of the UK, the Shetland coastline is relatively well studied thanks to survey work undertaken to support the building of Sullom Voe, work UHI Shetland to map important marine habitats and continued government agency survey work. But there are still large amounts of coastline yet to be surveyed.

All the species in the guide have been included as they are either rare, provide a vital habitat for other marine species or provide an important function such as storing carbon, stabilising sediments or maintaining water quality.

To be able to monitor and record these species we need to have accurate and up-to-date information on their distribution around Shetland. This information is used by the marine spatial planning team at UHI Shetland to create maps which are then used by developers, policy makers and local decision makers.

That’s where we need your help, we are asking wild swimmers, divers and snorkellers to report sightings of these key species. If you think you may have spotted one of the species in this guide please send us thew following information:

  • WHAT species you found
  • HOW many or how large
  • WHEN you found it
  • WHERE you found it (including coordinates if you have them) and at what depth.
  • Any PHOTOGRAPHS you may have

To download your copy CLICK HERE

We would also welcome records of any unusual species or invasive species (Shetland’s Marine Non-native Species), or shark and skate eggcases you might spot when diving (Shetland Shark and Skate Eggcase Hunt).


Summer Events Programme 2022

We are very excited to launch our programme of events for 2022 in collaboration with loads of great local organisations so come along for a nature adventure around Shetland!

Click the poster to download of copy of our complete summer programme or scroll down for more details of each event…


European Maritime Day Celebration

Sunday 5th June 10am-4pm

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and Visitor Centre

Come and celebrate Shetland’s historic and natural maritime heritage.

Guided walks- Cultural Heritage Tours-Whale and Dolphin Watches- Family Activities and Crafts- Seabird Discovery Stations- Displays and more!

Click HERE to go to the event webpage to find details of all the activities and book onto a guided walk


Wildflower Walk

Sunday 3rd July 11am-3pm

Meet at the Sumburgh Hotel car park at 11am

The natural heritage team at Shetland Amenity Trust will be taking us on a guided walk up the west coast to Sumburgh Head and back over Compass Head to Grutness finishing back at the Sumburgh Hotel at 3pm.

Although we will be majoring on wild flowers we will also keep an eye out for birds, mammals and insects.

This is a FREE event but booking essential, all under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.

Moderate fitness required as it is a 5km round walk with some steep stretches.

There will be a lunch break at the Lighthouse, you can choose to take a packed lunch with you and relax outdoors or dine in at the popular Unken Kaffee (please note the cost of lunch is not covered).


Peerie Pollinators

Thursday 21st July. Drop in between 12-3pm

Lerwick Flower Park

Join Shetland Amenity Trust and ourselves for family fun in the Lerwick Flower Park, exploring the wonderful world of pollinators, from moths & butterflies to bees & hoverflies, and picking up tips on how you can look after them.

To find out more about Bumblebees and Butterfly species found in Shetland, download our handy ID guides HERE

(c) Painted Lady
(c) Rory Tallack

Discover Shetland’s Sharks and Skates

Sunday 31st July 10.30am-1.30pm

Ness Boating Club

Come along to the Ness Boating Club to learn all about the sharks and skate that live in the seas off Shetland. We will have an eggcase workshop to help you identify and report your eggcase finds, interactive displays, crafts and games.

Then try your eggcase spotting skills out at beach below the Boating Club!


Magical Moths

Monday 8th Aug 10am-1pm

Meet at the Crofthouse Museum, Boddam

We will take a short walk to a garden to examine the contents of moth traps that have been set the previous night. Local experts, Paul Harvey and Rob Fray will help you identify a broad range of moth species and see how a moth trap works.

This is a FREE event but booking essential, all under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.


Wonderful Woodlands

Friday 12th August 10am-2pm

Brae Community Woodland and Brae Hall

The woodlands team at Shetland Amenity Trust will be taking us for a guided walk through the Brae Community Woodland. They will explain the benefit of woodland ecosystems, help us spot some Shetland native tree species and hopefully some of the birds and wildlife that make our woodlands their home.

While you are exploring the woodlands, you’ll have a chance to collect materials for leaf printing with local artist and printmaker Linda Richardson back at the Brae Hall.

There will also be lots of information, displays and children’s activities in the Brae Hall so come along and find out more about Shetland’s Wonderful Woodlands.

Woodland tours will start on the hour at 10am, 11am and 12pm. You can then make your way to the Brae Hall with your chosen leaves.

This if a FREE event and suitable for all ages and abilities. Brae Woodland is fully accessible for wheelchair users. All under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.

Or drop in to the Brae Hall anytime between 10am and 2pm


Wildlife Drop-ins

Sunday 21st August 1pm-4pm

Various locations in the South Mainland

An afternoon of discovery where you can meet nature experts and learn more about Shetland’s diverse and marine and terrestrial wildlife.

This event is being run in partnership with Shetland Amenity Trust

  • Waders autumn migration at the Pool of Virkie
  • Cetacean spotting at Scord Beach (opposite Old Scatness)
  • Birdwatching from the new Loch of Spiggie hide
  • Look for cetaceans & seabirds at Sumburgh Head
  • Investigate the intertidal rock pools at Leebitton

This is a free, drop-in event. More info to follow.



European Maritime Day Celebration

Sunday 5th June 10am-4pm

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and Visitor Centre


Programme of Activities


Guided Walk

Join Shetland Amenity Trust’s expert ranger on a circular walk up Sumburgh’s west coast to Sumburgh Head, returning back via Compass Head and Grutness. The walk will focus on all aspects of natural heritage, including birds, wildflowers and, if we’re lucky, sea mammals.

There will be a lunch break at the Lighthouse, you can choose to take a packed lunch with you and relax outdoors or dine in at the popular Unken Kaffee (please note the cost of lunch is not covered).

This is a FREE event but booking essential, all under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.

Click the following links to book your place:

Time: 11am – 3pm
Meeting point: Sumburgh Hotel Carpark
Ability: Moderate fitness required as it is a 5km walk with some steep stretches. 


Lighthouse Tower Tours

The team at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse will be giving tours of the visitor centre and explaining the rich history of Sumburgh Head.

There will also be the opportunity to go on a Light Tower Tours with Retained Lightkeeper, Brian Johnson.

A rare opportunity to step inside Shetland’s oldest Stevenson Lighthouse and see the Fresnel lens, clockwork mechanism and a spectacular view from Shetland Mainland’s most southerly point.

Tour times and booking arrangements to be confirmed on Friday.

Treaure Hunt

The Sumburgh Head Lighthouse team have created a fun, pirate themed treasure hunt to help young explorers navigate their way around the visitor centre and nature reserve. Follow the clues as they take you around Sumburgh Head and find out more about the animals that make it their home.

The treasure hunt is running throughout the day.

Collect the first clue from us at the decked area at the top of Sumburgh Head and make sure to come back and see us once you’ve completed the hunt!


Whale and Dolphin Watches

Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Shorewatch team will be looking out for whales, dolphins and porpoises from two vantage points around the lighthouse. Join them to find out how you can spot whales and dolphins and hear about how you can get involved in Shorewatch.

Binoculars will be provided and the team will have some whaley great games for you to get involved in!

Discover Seabirds

RSPB Shetland Wardens and Members of the Shetland Bird Club will be positioned at various platforms around the Sumburgh RSPB reserve to explain about the amazing lives of the seabirds that visit the cliffs of Sumburgh Head.

Coastal Wildlife

Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG) will be bringing along some activities designed to help increase your knowledge of coastal habitats and wildlife, and to encourage you to become a coastal explorer.

Come along to the SOTEAG stand to find out more about their work, pick up some fun activities and learn about the ‘Your Coast’ summer photo competition. 


Activity Table & Mask Making

Our craft table will be set up in the Engine Room with FREE nature themed activities all day, just drop in.

Mask Making

Artist Linda Richardson will join us for a creative mask making activity in the Engine Room from 2pm-4pm. No booking required. Cost £1 to cover materials payable on the day.

Nature Bingo

Join us for a scavanger hunt with a difference- Explore Sumburgh Head and see if you can spot all birds and flowers on bingo card.

Pick up your card from us at the decked area at the top of Sumburgh Head and remember to pop back and see us when you are finished!


Doing Less for Nature

By Rhiannon Jehu

I think that this year I’m going to commit myself to doing less for nature. No Mow May is a campaign started by Plantlife and is linked to their wild verges campaign that I mentioned in a blog last year and also to their Citizen Science project called #everyflowercounts Every Flower Counts | Plantlife.

The thinking goes like this:

  • People depend on plants and their products. Many of the plants we depend on, depend on insects to pollinate them.
  • We need to care for our insects so we can care for our plants, so we can care for ourselves and those we love.

However, as the UK population has increased, and agriculture has industrialised to try to feed us all, the number of meadows has reduced and the use of pesticides has increased. This means that people’s gardens are becoming more and more important as refuges for wildlife.

(c) Rhiannon Jehu

In the past it was popular to have a flat, green, single species, manicured lawn. There was stigma against not mowing, but councils and individuals are beginning to understand the benefits of an unmown lawn. If you spend 1 hour a week cutting your lawn your CO2 footprint will be around 293kg per year. Indeed, less mowing and allowing species to arise naturally gives your lawn the opportunity to sequester carbon – to become a better carbon store. Also, a manicured lawn takes a lot of effort to maintain – mowing, raking, weeding (or using weedkillers).

Gardens are often multi-purpose and vary in size. Some people grow vegetables, others flowers, some use them as children’s play areas, and all these different functions need to be taken into account. Plantlife and the RSPB both offer advice on managing your garden to make the most of it and share it with nature at the same time.

Cuckoo Flower
(c) Kate Allan
Heath spotted orchid
(c) Kate Allan

Plantlife suggest giving gardens a ‘Mowhican’ style cut – as with the hair style, cut some grass short and leave other areas long. Allowing two lengths of grass to grow maximises the diversity and quantity of flowers that will arise and this will increase the quantity of nectar your lawn produces and the length of time it is productive. ‘Short-grass’ plants like daisies and clover start flowering again soon after being cut, while areas of longer, unmown grass welcome a different range of flowers, in Shetland this could include yellow rattle, dead nettles (don’t worry, they don’t sting!), selfheal, cuckoo flower and even heath-spotted or northern marsh orchid!

The ideal is to cut the short grass once every month or so to a height of 1 or 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) then strim all the grass in August or September and remove the clippings. Mow it a couple more times if needed and then let your lawn rest over winter.

Other ideas include rotating patches of long and short grass within your garden so there are always some areas in flower. Or leaving areas long and then cutting strips to areas like the washing line that you want to keep clear for easy and ‘dry footed’ access.

The RSPB describe more detailed ways of creating wildlife habitats in your garden Stop mowing your lawn for nature (rspb.org.uk) and have a range of gardening ideas for all the family Wildlife garden ideas (rspb.org.uk)

(c) Rhiannon Jehu

Dr Trevor Dines a Botanical Specialist at Plantlife said:

“Put simply, the less you mow the more bees and butterflies there will be in your garden.” And that works for me.


Related Articles


A Celebration of Birds and Bogs

By Rhiannon Jehu

I find birds amazing, they can seem so small, so light weight, so vulnerable looking, and yet they survive in what to us feels like harsh extremes. The RSPB suggest that birds are probably the most researched and recorded wildlife on the planet. At the opposite end of the spectrum, wetlands have often been viewed by people as wastelands. However, they are essential not just for the survival of many of our much loved bird species, but also for our survival as a species. This month I thought that I’d write about 2 different events that have happened almost together this year –RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch that has been running since 1979 and World Wetlands Day which has been celebrated since 1997 and has just become an official UN event.


The Big Garden Birdwatch

The Big Garden Birdwatch is a very popular citizen science project – in 2021 over one million people took part across the UK with 78,000 people counting a total of 1.5 million birds in Scotland. The BGB data was combined with information gathered by 70 other organisations and used in the ‘State of Nature 2019 report’ which in turn is being used to advise and campaign for improvements in nature care. The BGB count is especially important because it has been taking place for so long that it allows trends and changes to be identified. Sadly, this means that we know that over the last 50 years, 40 million birds have vanished from the UK’s skies.

For me, doing the birdwatch is a social experience since we compare notes with neighbours and friends as to what we’ve seen and not seen. This year we saw sparrows, starlings and pigeons. The RSPB ask us to record the maximum number of each species we see with their ‘feet on the ground’ at any one time. This means no counting the flock of geese flying over-head, which can be very frustrating – a case of the ones that got away.

Sparrow looking handsome on a hawthorn. (C) Rhiannon Jehu
Starlings are amazing generalists – I see them at the table, on the beach and amongst the bogs and heather. (C) Rhiannon Jehu

The stats from 2021 show that house sparrows were our most common garden visitor across the UK. In Scotland this was followed by starlings but in England, blue tits came number two. Nationally, sparrow populations have dropped by 58% and starling numbers by 83%, since 1979.


Wetlands

So, where do wetlands come into the equation? The name wetland describes a wide range of habitats, saltwater or fresh, inland or coastal, natural or human-made. In Shetland, this includes our peatlands, blanket bogs, marshes, lochs and lagoons.

Blanket bogs (a type of peatland), form where soils are water-logged and acidic. Conditions are too harsh for many non-specialised species but mosses, especially sphagnums thrive. They can hold up to 20 times their dry weight in water meaning they reduce runoff (and therefore flooding) and hold water during dry periods, reducing the risk of droughts.

Sphagnums and other bog plants break down very slowly and thus build up (at a speed of about 1mm a year) to form layers of peat which can be over 8m deep (Blanket bog | NatureScot). However, though healthy peats store carbon, when they are degraded they release it back into the atmosphere. This means that caring for our bogs is massively important if we are to limit climate change.

(C) Rhiannon Jehu

There are over 30 species of sphagnum moss in the UK, but they are very difficult to tell apart.

(C) Rhiannon Jehu

The Shetland Amenity Trust, with funding from the Peatland ACTION project have so far helped to restore about 400 ha. of Shetlands degraded peatlands as part of a wider national target to restore 250,000 ha. of degraded peatlands by 2030. In Shetland, they are hoping to reach the point where we are restoring 1000 ha. a year. The RSPB in Shetland are also working hard to protect peatlands, employing a dedicated Peatland Officer who works to restore and protect peatland habitats for the benefit of Shetland’s bird species.  

Scotland’s location at the edge of the Atlantic means that it catches a lot of rain which the hard rocks stop from draining away quickly. This combined with agricultural practices has allowed bogs and thus peat to cover almost a quarter of Scotland’s landscape (1.8 million hectares). This is a significant amount of our planet’s blanket bogs which in turn support some of our rarest wildlife. So, whilst some people may view wetlands as not being very productive because we can’t grow many crops in them, globally, they are home to 40% of the world’s known plant and animal species and 30% of known fish species, with, for example, many birds using wetlands as rest & refueling stops during migrations.

In Shetland, the vast extent of peatlands is an important breeding area for wetland birds such as dunlin, golden plover and curlew, giving islanders plenty of opportunity to spot these birds while out and about.

Curlews breed on a range of habitats including moorland and bogs. For me, their song suggests the start of spring (almost)

(C) Rhiannon Jehu

I love watching for the birds that visit our islands and our gardens – even when they hide. Monitoring the wellbeing of individual species, as happens with the Big Garden Birdwatch, helps us to see and understand the long-term situation and can inspire action. However, individual birds trying to survive and reproduce need a wide range of resources and wetlands are incredibly valuable. Caring for them here and around the world is important if we want to give other species and ourselves the opportunity to survive and live well.

If anyone is interested in learning more about carrying out peatland restoration on their hill or apportionment then Sue White from Shetland Amenity Trust would love to hear from you. There are also some ‘how to’ You-tube guides to peat restoration by NatureScot: Peatland Restoration Techniques.



Shetland’s Marine Meadows

Under our shallow seas are hidden meadows of grass, these seagrasses play important ecological roles in marine ecosystems. But more recently, these unassuming plants of the sea have been noticed by scientists and governments as a natural solution in the fight to mitigate climate change.


What is Seagrass?

Seagrasses are a type of flowering plant known as an angiosperm belonging to the same family as terrestrial grasses. They have leaves, roots and rhizomes and in the same way as land-based grasses, take up nutrients from the sediment and energy through photosynthesis. Seaweeds, in comparison are a type of algae and do not perform these same functions.


Shetland Seagrass Species

Historically, Shetland had many areas of seagrass but some have been lost and the extent of others unknown. We are aiming to collect records of seagrass beds and map the current extent of the known beds around Shetland.

Eelgrass (Zostera marina)-

a subtidal seagrass growing to depths of 5m. It is the most common species of seagrass in the UK. In Shetland however, Eelgrass is restricted to only a handful of sheltered bays on the western coast such as Whiteness Voe. Historically, there were large beds in The Vadills SAC but these have now been lost.

Dwarf Eelgrass (Zostera noltei)-

the smallest British seagrass species. It is most commonly an intertidal species found in sheltered shallow muddy areas which become exposed at low tide. However, here in Shetland it is more likely to be found submerged in lagoons such as Loch of Hellister.

Beaked Tasselweed (Ruppia maritima)-

mainly found in sheltered brackish water within lagoons, lochs and salt marshes. In Shetland it is found in areas such as as Loch of Strom, Loch of Hellister and The Vadills SAC.

Zostera marina (c) Ben Jones
Zostera noltei (c) Ben Jones
Ruppia maritima. Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 US

Why is Seagrass Important?

Seagrass provides a number of important functions for humans as well as other marine life…

(c) Shetland UHI

Threats to Seagrass

In the UK we have lost approximately 44% of our seagrass since 1936. The primary threat to seagrass is Eutrophication. Excessive nutrients entering the water through run-off cause blooms in phytoplankton reducing light travelling to the seagrass and restricting their ability to photosynthesise.

Climate Change has also put multiple stresses onto seagrass beds through:

  • Rising sea temperatures
  • Increase in storm events
  • Rising sea levels
  • Changes in chemical concentrations in the water

Once damaged a seagrass bed can take a considerable length of time to recover and once lost, may never recover.


How You Can Help

We really need your help to record and map Shetland’s important seagrass habitats, you can get involved-

  • By submitting records of seagrass you may spot whilst swimming/ snorkelling/ diving/ kayaking etc.
  • By join us on a shore based seagrass hunt around our lochs and lagoons
  • If you are a drone pilot you can get involved by helping us map the extent of known seagrass beds using video footage.

To find out more and to get involved please contact us at shetlandcommunitywildlife@outlook.com

To keep up to date with all news, events and projects sign up to become a member and receive regular updates via email. You can sign up here.



Connecting with life’s cycles

By Rhiannon Jehu

This time of year is for sitting back, dreaming and planning, so I’m going to write a few thoughts here. In one of my blogs last spring, I discussed how connecting with nature can help a person feel physically and mentally fitter, while Covid has highlighted the importance of connecting with people we care about. Some friends recently started up a Cocaine Anonymous group in Lerwick. CA is a 12-step programme open to anyone who wants to stop using addictive chemicals, legal or illegal, or who wants to stop gambling. I love the motto; ‘Hope, Faith, Courage’ and so will use these as headings here.

Hope- a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen

Da Voar-Redd-Up joined forces with the Marine Conservation Society’s national beach clean project some time ago. The MCS use the information they gather (with our help) to identify areas for action and improvement and to communicate this to governments and other organisations. They have found that:

  • the average litter recorded per 100 metres (across the UK) has dropped to 385 items in 2019
  • the number of single-use plastic bags has dropped from an average of 13 in 2013 to 3 in 2021

COP 26 was a massive event for 2021 and though it didn’t achieve what everybody wanted, there was some good news for the sea- the UN has agreed to hold annual ‘ocean dialogues’.

The Marine Conservation Society offered some positives too:

  • Between 60-70% of UK fish stocks are now sustainably harvested.
  • We have a large number of Marine Protected Areas on paper and where these are fully protected, biodiversity increases by an average of 21%.
  • Some species of marine mammal are making a comeback with 47% of 124 well assessed marine mammal populations showing a significant increase in recent decades (and 13% decreasing) (Duarte et al, 2020).

Faith- trust or confidence in someone or something even when there is limited proof

Faith is frequently connected with religion, but I ran into the term ‘faith in humanity’ recently. It is defined as:

‘A readiness to see positive aspects in individuals, strangers and subgroups, as well as in those we know. At the same time accepting that the other person may hold different beliefs and opinions. FIH requires a willingness to act on these positive perceptions when interpreting individuals past and present behaviour and when looking to their future actions.’

I want to grow more faith in humanity. I feel I need it as I face the future since, though there are some positive statistics there are also many negative ones. I think that citizen science is one way of making connections and working together across sometimes testy political borders. There are many migratory species that are depending on us. They were ‘citizens of the world’ long before we were.

Added to this, nature is on the move as environmental conditions change. Growing up in Shetland (a scary long time ago) I didn’t know what a wasp was, and I’d never seen a land snail larger than 4mm. Will tomorrow’s children see walruses as ‘common as snails?’

Connecting with others and talking about our experiences and the environment involves learning a new language for me at least. For example, ‘Rewilding’ is a term that is often misunderstood but can be seen as a ’empowering nature’- reinstating natural processes and then trusting nature to look after itself. But having ‘faith in nature’ will take courage.

Courage- the ability to do something that frightens one

I feel that it can take courage to connect with ourselves, to be honest with ourselves, to see and admit our mistakes and to learn from them rather than being ashamed. We are a social species and so connecting with others is important for our health. For me video conferencing app’s like Zoom are a boon. I can stay in Shetland and learn from people from around the world. But I need to stay grounded too – to connect with my neighbours, the people around me and especially with the people who I don’t agree with – to meet them and listen and learn.

Shetlanders are connected to the sea. We are surrounded by a vast, life-giving (kelp) forest that has fed us for generations (a beautiful image I gleaned from a talk by Richard Shucksmith). For my own well-being, connecting with nature helps me to feel calm, exhilarated, joyful. To watch ‘life’; the starlings, the sparrows, the changing seasons, the constantly changing sea and sky. At the MCS AGM a speaker pointed to the single most important thing that we can do as individuals for ourselves and for our planet – it’s a process for creating ‘blue bonds’, paraphrasing;

connect -> value -> love -> care -> share -> protect.

We are all at different points in our journeys but by connecting and sharing our experiences, by being open minded and listening to those around us whether online or face-to-face with children or with the elderly. Connecting with others, connecting with nature, sharing the joy and beauty. I believe that by doing that I can find the hope, faith and courage I need for the coming year.

I’m attaching a range of links here to ideas and activities that you can be a part of. Or, maybe you know someone else who would like to try one:

A journal filled with seasonal ideas for connecting with nature:

Thriving-With-Nature-compressed.pdf (mentalhealth.org.uk)

A local link to da Voar-Redd-Up planned for April:

Da Voar Redd Up | Shetland Amenity Trust

‘Cycling UK’. A bicycle library where you can borrow a bike, or ebike or get cycling sessions to brush up on skills:

Cycling UK Shetland | Facebook

Connect with nature and create a ‘wheel of time and nature’

Phenology Wheels: Earth Observation Where You Live – Earthzine


Sea mammals and Shorewatch- a beginners perspective

By Rhiannon Jehu

Despite living in Shetland all my life, I know very little about the sea mammals that live so close to us. I decided to fix that and have written a few notes on what I have learned so far.

For many generations people have hunted whales. Commercial whaling started in the Middle Ages and by the 1750’s most Scottish ports were involved in the industry. Whales have provided us with oil for our lamps and meat for our stomachs. The hunting of cetaceans in Scotland stopped in the 1960’s and has reduced significantly worldwide. However, other challenges, such as increasing levels of pollution and underwater noise and by-catch from some fishing methods, has led to a crash in global whale, dolphin and porpoise (WD&P) populations.

Baleen whales (Mysticeti) who have baleen plates to filter their food; mostly plankton and small species of fish e.g. minke whales

(c) WDC

Toothed whales (Odonotoceti) which includes all species of dolphin and porpoise, such as the Risso’s dolphin and harbour porpoise. As the name suggests, these sub-order species all have teeth and often eat larger prey than the baleens. Most have cone-shaped teeth for grasping and holding their food. However, porpoises have flatter, spade-shaped teeth. Though porpoises and dolphins can look quite similar, porpoises are smaller and chunkier. This allows them to stay warm despite their smaller size and the cold water– short and round is easier to heat than long and lean. Also, porpoises can be heard to ‘puff’ through their blowhole while dolphins whistle through theirs.

(c) WDC
(c) WDC

One unique role that larger species of whale play is the ‘whale pump/poop pump’. Some species move between the low pressure of the surface and the high pressure of the depths when hunting. As they do this they cycle nutrients, taking it from the depths and carrying it to the surface where they release it. These mega-poops help to feed open ocean ecosystems.

Whales also create ecosystems in the ocean’s deepest darkest parts. Deep seas were once believed to be almost lifeless due to their extreme conditions; high pressure and eternal darkness. More recently explorers have discovered a wide range of strange and beautiful lifeforms. Many of these feed on marine ‘snow’ that falls from above. This is made up of the decaying bodies of plants and animals that are sinking to the ocean floor. A ‘whale fall’ is an extreme example of this. It occurs when a dead whale falls to the deep ocean floor. The body becomes a feeding ground and ecosystem for a multitude of other extreme survivors. One fall can support an ecosystem for years, even decades before becoming completely consumed.

To find out more about the role whales play in marine ecosystems, take a look at WDC’s Green Whale Campaign Website

The other week I attended a 1 day online training course run by Whale & Dolphin Conservation (WDC) so that I could take part in their ‘Shorewatch’ citizen science project here in Shetland. Shorewatch volunteers gather presence and absence data on cetaceans which is uploaded into the WDC database. This information is used for research purposes and to provide evidence of what is happening in marine ecosystems. For example, to advise our government on the most effective locations to put ‘Marine Protected Areas’ and on how effective these are. Shorewatch data and data currently being collected by the SCWG’s Shetland Porpoise Survey will be used locally by the Marine Spatial Planning team at Shetland UHI to fill knowledge gaps in the Shetland Islands Regional Marine Plan, to assisting marine management and planning decisions in the isles.

WDC Shorewatch

Shorewatch has been running since 2005 and has trained over 1000 volunteers, who carry out on average 9,000 surveys every year around Scotland. Each Shorewatch involves 10 minutes of intensive watching from a specific location.

We record:

  • The environmental conditions (sea state & visibility)
  • What boat traffic is on the water
  • What marine mammals we see
  • Any other interesting sightings.

For more info:

Shorewatch – Watching out for whales and dolphins in Scotland – WDC (wdcs.org)

I am discovering that WD&P’s are fascinating and awe inspiring. They also play important roles keeping our oceans fit and healthy – we are all dependent on each other. If the whales thrive, the seas thrive and if the seas thrive, we thrive. In Shetland we have a long history of connecting and valuing WD&P’s and we have easy access to them. There is so much more we can learn about individual species and their lifestyles. The more we know and understand them the better able we will be to live alongside them in harmony, to be able to be a small part of that process, is so exciting.


Woodland Areas in Shetland

Shetland is not known for its trees, but you may be surprised at how many plantations and woodland areas there are doted around the isles.

We have created a guide to help you find and explore many of the accessible woodland areas in Shetland. The guide describes the types of tree species, features such as burns, information boards and seating areas, and accessibility. The map below shows the location of all the woodland areas detailed within the guide.

Click on the image to download a pdf copy of the Woodland Guide


Verging on Beautiful

By Rhiannon Jehu

I walk on single track and other unpaved roads as a part of my daily routine. Stepping into the verge and waving ‘Hi’ to passing traffic is normal for me and gives me the opportunity to really enjoy the beauty and colour of our wild flowers; this year’s verges have been blooming beautifully.

In the world of flowers, verges provide a habitat for grassland and meadow species (as well as for scrubland and forest plants in some places). This is essential since we have lost 97% of our meadows since the 1930s. They are now home to almost half of UK wild flower species (over 700) and nearly 45% of our total flora. They cover over 1% of UK land and about 500,000 kilometres. All this makes them crucial habitats for rare and declining plants.

Roadside conditions are relatively undisturbed and the soil is low in nutrition and high in salt (from winter gritting). In areas with heavy traffic there are also high levels of nitrogen and other pollutants. Together, these conditions make verges good for coastal, saltmarsh and cliff species, and also for nitrogen-loving plants.

Nitrogen loving nettle
Copyright Rhiannon Jehu

Wild flowers attract insects which have a wide range of lifestyles. There are herbivores, such as caterpillars, and predators, such as wasps and spiders. Pollinators – bees, hoverflies and the like – are especially important to us humans since they are essential for the growth of many of our food crops. For more on pollinators; Pollinators | Buglife.

Copyright Rhiannon Jehu
Copyright Rhiannon Jehu

Vegetation and insects draw amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds, creating a food-web, and in some places, thriving ecosystems. Verges can act as corridors that reconnect, repopulate and restore sites. They give species the opportunity to travel, mix and feed, improving their life chances and genetic diversity. This leads to healthier, less vulnerable populations; social isolation is as bad for other species as it is for us.

Verges are mown for our safety so drivers can see clearly at junctions and curves in the road. Mowing is also needed to maintain an environment that best suits our native species. It prevents annuals being overwhelmed by more vigorous types and, for best results, it needs to take place late in summer once plants have set seed. These seeds then feed the local food-web and visitors such as migrating birds. They also provide the next generation of flowers.

After mowing, grass clippings need to be removed from a verge. Leaving them in situ makes the soil more nutritious so bigger plants thrive and more delicate species become overwhelmed. Clippings can also act as a blanket preventing some species’ seeds from germinating. Over time these conditions reduce the biodiversity of the verge.

Eyebright- a semi-parasitic plant that struggles if soil nutrients improve too much
Copyright Rhiannon Jehu

As our climate changes species are evolving, and on the move. Verges are one place where this happens, but there are downsides to having vibrant roadsides. Animals die in RTA’s and verges can be highways for invasive species and weeds as well as plant pests and diseases. These need to be controlled so they don’t spread. However, with care, they can be a powerful tool for conservation and coping with climate change. Indeed, the charity ‘Plantlife’ estimates that if all verges were managed for nature there would be 400 billion more flowers in the UK.

Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation and the Wildlife Trusts have come together and produced a guide to caring for and developing verges where nature can thrive; Managing road verges for wildlife | The Wildlife Trusts.

Several local authorities have produced interesting projects and initiatives:

References:

Why road verges are important habitats for wildflowers and animals | Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk)

Road Verge Campaign (love-wildflowers.org.uk)

Kidney vetch
Copyright Rhiannon Jehu
Red clover
Copyright Rhiannon Jehu