Our British hedgehogs have recently been classified vulnerable to extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List as it is estimated that there are less than a million left in the UK.
Hedgehogs start to hibernate in October/November and the Scottish Wildlife Trust have some useful information on making them more comfortable in your garden.
Juvenile hedgehogs weighing less than 500 grams during late autumn will be unlikely to survive through their winter hibernation and so will need help. Download this factsheet caring for autumn juvenile hedgehogs from the RSPCA for advice.
Or you can call the SSPCA on 03000 999 999 if you find a sick, injured of underweight hog.
How to make your garden more hog friendly –
Resist the temptation to remove all of the leaf litter from your garden. Instead leave log and leaf piles which make a perfect nesting place as well as great habitat for all of the invertebrates (beetles, slugs etc) that hedgehogs love to feed on.
If your fruits have finished for the season and the kids don’t play football in the winter, remove all types of netting from the garden as hedgehogs and other critters can easily become entangled in it.
Before beginning any work in your garden, check for hedgehogs hiding in bushes etc before using any strimmers or lawnmowers. Compost heaps make lovely warm nesting places for hogs, so do be careful and check before forking it over.
As we are approaching bonfire night, please build any bonfires as close to the lighting time as you can, and always check them thoroughly for any animals which may have begun nesting in it.
Hedgehogs have surprisingly large territories, they have been known to roam up to 2km in a single night. To allow free movement of hogs between neighbouring gardens and fields it is also recommended that you add a 13cm square hole through fences.
Beachcombing can be a really fun activity; I always get a feeling of excited anticipation when I step onto a beach as I never know what I might find. And the brilliance of it is, with the tide coming in and out twice a day there is always something new to discover.
This article will introduce you to some of the natural treasures that may be lurking out there just waiting to be found on the beaches in Shetland. For more information on other projects and activities to get involved in on the beach have a look at our Projects page.
It can be tricky to ID some of the finds as they can look a bit weathered from the sea and the surf. We are always happy to help, either send us an email at email@example.com or tag us on facebook @SCWG. There is also a brilliant group on Facebook full if local enthusiasts who would love to see all your finds, just search Shetland Seashore Discoveries.
It is great fun hunting for all those natural wonders amongst the strandline but we all know too well that often the man-made and plastic materials on our strandlines can out-number the natural. Why not take a bag and some gloves with you whenever you head to the beach and do a #2minutebeachclean, the wildlife will most definitely thank you! Visit www.beachclean.net/ for more info.
Shark and Skate Eggcases
Many skate and shark species around Shetland lay eggcases (also known as mermaid’s purses) which lie on the sea floor or wrapped amongst seaweed and kelp. Each eggcase holds a single embryo which once developed breaks out of the eggcase. These eggcases then often become washed up on our beaches. There are a surprising variety of eggcases and once you get looking it is interesting to see how many different species you can find on a beach. Click here to see our post on the Shetland Eggcase Hunt which will give you all the info you will need to identify the eggcases you find and how to record them. To find put more about the joys of hunting eggcases, read Sally Hubband’s experiences.
If you are super lucky you may find an intact urchin but more commonly, as they are very fragile, it is just fragments that are washed up. There are two common types of urchin in Shetland, the Edible Sea Urchin (Echinus esculentus) which has a pinky red shell with white spots where the spines have broken off. The second species is the Green Sea Urchin (Psammechinus miliaris) which as its name suggests is a greenish brown in colour.
You may also find what is know as an ‘Aristotle’s Lantern’ which is actually the mouth part of the urchin and is often found as it is the toughest part of an Urchin. It is used to scrape and tear algae which is then chewed with the teeth.
Sea Potatoes (Echinocardium cordatum) are a relative of the sea urchin and are also known as heart urchins. They are a sandy colour with fine spines which give it a hairy appearance although these spines may have been worn off in the surf.
Jellyfish in their adult stage, are not long-lived creatures and once they have spawned, they will die. Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) are the most common jellyfish found in Shetland. They are easily recognised by its transparent bell with four pink-purple rings. As they are often found in large shoals and spawning happens en masse, large numbers of these jellyfish (sometimes in their thousands) can often be washed up on beaches at the same time. Moon jellyfish feed on plankton and as such only have a mild sting which is unlikely to be felt by humans.
The largest jellyfish to visit our waters is the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) which is commonly seen at sizes of 0.5m in the UK but can grow up to 2m in diameter in Arctic waters. It is known as the Lion’s Mane due to the mass of tentacles around the underside of the bell and the jellyfish’s brown-red colouration. Care should be taken if you come across one in the water or on the shore as their sting is severe and they are still able to sting even when dead.
The Blue Jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii) grows up to around 30 cm and can range from pale yellow-brown (younger specimens) to light blue-purple. They have trailing stinging tentacles on the underside of the bell along with clusters of stinging tentacles on the upper surface of the bell. Their sting is fairly mild and similar to that a stinging nettle.
The Common Goose Barnacle (Lepas anatifera) is the most commonly found species of goose barnacle on our shores. They are a type of crustacean which spend their lives attached to drifting objects floating on the ocean’s surface. They have a flexible stalk which attaches to the floating object with a shelled ‘head’ which protects its feeding legs. These feeding legs uncurl from the shell and catch floating plankton. Goose barnacles are often found in large clusters on objects that have become washed ashore.
These are one of the commonest finds on our beaches. They have a spongy appearance and are often mistaken for a type of natural sponge and were in fact used by mariners for washing in the past. These egg masses are actually from either the Common Whelk (Buccinum undatum) or the Red Whelk (Neptunea antiqua) which are both common species around Shetland.
These are less common on Shetland beaches compared to the rest of the UK. They are from the Common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) and can be up to 40cm in length. Cuttlefish are molluscs and members of the cephalopod family along with squid and octopus. The bone that is washed up is filled with gas and used to control buoyancy by adding or releasing the gas. As these bones float, they are easily washed onto beaches. They are made from calcium carbonate and have many uses including as a dietary supplement for birds and reptiles.
These are actually plant seeds that are specially designed to drift long distances in water. They have a very strong outer shell that stops water from penetrating inside and rotting the seed, some have air pockets on the inside to keep them buoyant. These seeds generally come from tropical plants that may have spent months or even years drifting across the Atlantic from the Americas, and the West Indies. You would have to be very lucky to find one of these drift seeds in Shetland as they are very rarely reported. There are a handful of different species but two of the most likely would be the Sea Heart from the Entada gigas plant or a Horse-eye Bean (sometimes known as hamburger bean) from the Mucuna spp.
On rare occasions larger animals may become stranded or wash up on the beach. Please note that marine mammals can carry a variety of diseases than can be transferable to humans – please don’t touch or allow dogs to get too close. If possible try to take a variety of photos and estimate the length – this will help with ID.
If you find a dead marine mammal on the shore report it to the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme on www.strandings.org/ or to NatureScot (formally SNH) who will coordinate collection of samples or sending the animal south for post mortem examination. For dead otters please also report them to NatureScot on 01463 667600 (Lerwick office) or NORTH@nature.scot
Rockpooling can be a fun activity to for the young, and not so young alike. There is a huge variety of species in this very changeable habitat. Many species have developed special adaptations to allow them to live in this harsh landscape, with changing sea levels, water temperature, salinity levels and the battering of waves. Read on to find out more about some of the most common species you are likely to see in a Shetland rockpool.
Just remember, if you plan on taking a trip to the coast, check the tide times first and be mindful of the rising tide. Do not go alone and always carry a mobile phone, if you find yourself in trouble call 999 and ask for the coastguard.
Green Shore Crab (Carcinus maenas)- Most common crab found on our seashores, they can grow up to 6cm (carapace width) but are usually smaller juveniles that are found in rockpools and under rocks on the lower shore. Their colouration can vary from a green/brown to a bright orange underside with many patterns and blotches. Females will be moulting during the summer months with breeding following straight after. The female will can lay up to 185 000 eggs which she holds in an orange sac under a flap on the underside of her abdomen.
Common Limpet (Patella vulgate)- Found in large numbers at all levels of the tide line, they have a very strong muscular foot which it uses to stay attached to the rock which allows them to live in areas with strong wave action. They graze on algae and micro-organisms that grow and live on the rock surface. They return each day to what is known as a ‘home scar’ which they create using their shell to cut into the rock.
Beadlet Anemone (Actinia equina)-Very common anemone seen in most rockpools and on the underside of rocks below the high-water mark. When out of the water they retract their tentacles, extending them again once submerged in water. These tentacles are used to catch floating food which it then moves to the mouth parts in the centre of its body. They use their tentacles for defence giving any intruder or neighbouring anemone a sting.
Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea)- Known locally as whelks these little snails are a common seashore inhabitant in Shetland. Preferring rocky areas with good weed cover where they feed on different types of algae. This species is of commercial importance, they are gathered by locals and sold to the vivier trucks (trucks with seawater tanks used to transport live seafood) which visit the isles before travelling south as far as France and Spain to be sold on.
Dog Whelk (Nucella lapillus)- Found on most rocky shores in Shetland the Dog Whelk is similar to the Common Periwinkle but generally paler in colour with spiral ridges. Unlike the Common Periwinkle who are strictly vegetarian, Dog Whelks are carnivores, preying on barnacles, mussels and other bivalves. They use their mouth parts, known as a proboscis, to force open the shells of bivalves (mussels and clams) or drill a hole in the shell of its prey to remove the flesh inside. They are also NOT edible as they are apparently ‘distasteful’.
Butterfish (Pholis gunnellus)- A small eel-like fish up to 25cm long with continuous dorsal fin running the length of its body. They are a red/brown colour distinguishable by the ~12 black spots outlined with white along the base of the dorsal fin. They can be found in rock pools or in very shallow water underneath stones. Their skin is covered in a slimy coating making they very difficult to catch by hand, hence the name. They are the most commonly seen fish in rock pools in Shetland.
Common Mussels (Mytilus edulis)- A very important commercial species in Shetland with 80% of Scotland’s mussels grown in Shetland. They are grown commercially on ropes suspended from header ropes held up on the surface by large floats. They are also common on our seashore where they can be seen in often very large groups (known as beds) attached to rocks using thin but very strong threads called basal threads. They are blue/purple in colour with size and shape varying dependant on environmental conditions. Even though they are edible, it is not recommended to eat wild mussels, being filter feeders, those in shoreline areas can contain a lot of sand making them gritty to eat, they can also ingest large quantities of E-Coli which can be found in run-off from surrounding farmland and septic tank run-off. Additionally, they can accumulate a naturally occurring, but toxic algae which is common in the summer and autumn.
Barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides)- Super abundant in Shetland found at all levels of the intertidal zone. Barnacles live an upside-down life; they are permanently cemented to the rock by their head and, when covered by water, feed with their feet (cirri). They famously have the largest genitals (about 15 cm) to body size ratio in the animal kingdom.
Common Starfish (Asterias rubens)- Very abundant species in Shetland but scarce in rockpools except for occasional juveniles in low tide areas. Adults can however commonly be seen on pier and harbour structures. At their maximum they can grow up to 50cm but are more commonly seen to be around 10-30cm. They are orange/pale brown with 5 arms each with many rows of short tube feet which they use to move along the seabed. They can live on a wide range of substrate from sand, gravel to rocks and can sometimes occur in very large groups. They feed on a large range of species including bivalves, small crustaceans and other echinoderms. They use their tube feet to price open the shells of other creatures before extracting their stomach and placing it directly into the fleshy area to digest its meal. They have another clever adaptation where, if captured by predators, they are able to lose a leg to escape and will grow a new one, so if you spot a starfish with a leg smaller than the others, it is in the process of re-growing.
Edible Sea Urchin (Echinus esculentus)- Known locally as ‘Skaadman’s head’.A large urchin around 15-16cm in diameter, they are red in colour, although shade may vary. They are covered in pinkish white spines and when submerged soft tentacles are extended in rows alongside the spines. They have a hard bony ‘beak’ on their underside which they use to feed on algae and barnacles. They are scarce in rockpools but are often seen on piers and harbour walls. They are often found washed up on beaches, usually broken and with no spines left intact. They are known as the Edible Sea Urchin as the roe was eaten as a delicacy in some areas of the UK.
Sandhoppers- Commonly found on sandy beaches under rocks or seaweed above the high-water mark. They can also be found along the strandline amongst rotting weed. They are a staple food source for many seashore birds include Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover. They get their name from the leaping movement they use to propel themselves away from danger.
This is a question that we often get asked – why are you bothering to record that? What’s the point? Put simply recording the wildlife around us helps build up our knowledge of the environment – what is where and how might this be changing. Shetland’s socio-economic well-being is tied heavily to its environment – fishing, aquaculture, agriculture and tourism are all dependent on a clean, thriving environment. Recording helps us to monitor the health of this environment and can act as an early warning system if, and when, things start to go wrong. It can often be done relatively cheaply using so called citizen science – as hundreds of folk enjoy getting outside and many of these contribute by sending in their wildlife observations or posting them on social media.
We’ll try and outline a few examples of why recording can be important. Some species are common and widespread and some species are rare and localised. The only way we can ascertain which is which is through recording. The Bog Orchid is a tiny but attractive wee orchid that, as its name suggests, grows in damp, acid bogs. It is a rare plant in Shetland and indeed throughout Scotland and was known from only a handful of sites in the islands. A small group of folk out looking at and recording flowers came across a previously unknown site for the species in the Catfirth area. And what a colony it was, numbering several hundred plants and making it the biggest colony in Scotland. It so happened that this area was earmarked for a housing development but following discussion with the Council the developer changed the plans slightly meaning the site could be saved and Scotland’s largest Bog Orchid colony remains for others to enjoy. Without recording, this site would have been lost.
The Curlew is a relatively common bird in Shetland. Yet elsewhere in the UK the Curlew population has plummeted such that it is now on the Red List of Birds to watch. Every year since 2002 about 60 Shetland residents head out twice in the spring with maps to record breeding birds in a one kilometre square close to their home. These data are collated and have allowed us to establish population trends for our more common breeding birds. This has told us that the Curlew population in Shetland is holding its own; unlike elsewhere in the UK it is not in sharp decline. This also suggests that existing crofting/farming practices in Shetland are currently well suited to maintaining Curlew (and indeed other breeding wader populations). Many of these waders – Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe, Oystercatcher are present here in nationally important numbers. Now more than ever the taxpayer is looking for greater public benefits from agriculture and it is likely that rewards for farming in an environmentally sensitive manner will increase in the future. So here, volunteer recorders have provided the data that allows environmentalists and farmers to make strong arguments that the existing agriculture in the islands should be supported because it already yields considerable environmental benefits.
Global warming is on almost everyone’s lips these days. Can we show it is happening here in Shetland? There has been much talk of the adverse impacts of a rise in sea temperature on Shetland’s seabirds and this is likely to impact on fish stocks too but things are very complicated in the marine environment and it’s not always easy to make direct links. A few island residents however have been recording large insects – bumblebees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies for starters – and this has revealed some big changes as a result of climate change. Insects have good powers of dispersal and can reproduce very quickly and in large numbers so are often one of the first groups to respond to environmental change. In the last few years, the recording undertaken by these folk has revealed that two species of bumblebee and several species of moth have, or are in the process of, colonising the islands.
In our marine environment, previously unseen non-native species (NNS) coming from elsewhere in the world can become established in the isles due to the change is sea temperatures. The NAFC Marine Centre UHI has been monitoring ports and marinas for a few years as this is usually where species first enter on the hulls of boats or ballast water. Once established they can be very difficult, if not impossible to eradicate. These non-native species are troublesome as they can compete with our native species for food and space and smother aquaculture structures causing economic impact. To be able to assess if these species have made it into the ‘wild’ (beyond man made structures) we need everyone’s help to submit records of species they find whilst out on our beaches and coastlines.
The many individuals that record wildlife here in Shetland are also helping to put the islands on the map. Thanks to these efforts Shetland is now well represented in new publications about Scotland’s or the UK’s wildlife. This helps establish patterns and trends farther afield than just our islands, and can also illustrate just how important the Shetland’s biodiversity is.
Finally, it is important to say that watching and recording wildlife should also be about fun. If this can be done as a group then the accompanying banter can certainly add to the atmosphere(!) and learning can become so much easier. It seems that nationwide, the recent pandemic has encouraged a lot of people to get out and reconnect with nature and that can only be of benefit to us as individuals by boosting our mental wellbeing and to society as we struggle to overcome the many environmental challenges that we will face in the future.
So, we’d be delighted to receive any records of wildlife and plants that you can make. All we need is an observer name, date, location (preferably a grid reference) and your record will be added to the Shetland database
For a list of current projects that you can get involved in visit our Projects page.
Thanks to everyone in Shetland who reports their findings to the Shark Trust’s Great Eggcase Hunt, we now have a good idea of the species that occur locally. But the more records that are submitted the better this understanding will become.
It can be a bit confusing at first, working out which eggcase is which but the Shark Trust’s very easy to use app will guide you through and the identification key on their website is great too. It helps to soak the eggcases in water before trying to work out what they are.
To the best of my knowledge, seven kinds of eggcases have been found on Shetland’s beaches. The most common eggcase by far is that of the small spotted catfish, aka dogfish, with its small narrow capsule and long curly tendrils. I am always hoping to find a cuckoo ray eggcase but have only found three so far, they have a bulbous capsule and long sinuous horns. It is always a joy to find the huge eggcase of a flapper skate, the largest species of skate in the world.
The Shark Trust examined all the Shetland records recently and found that these islands are a particularly good place to find the rough textured starry skate eggcases. Even more excitingly, three ‘aberrant’ starry skate eggcases have been found on Shetland beaches. Each is much larger and more typical in size for north western Atlantic populations of this species. Could they have drifted here, or is there another intriguing explanation for the presence of these unusually large starry skate eggcases on our shores?
I can’t wait to find out what else might be revealed by the Shetland Community Wildlife Project and the Shark Trust. A new species record for Shetland? More unusual starry skate eggcases?
Happy eggcase hunting!
If you would like to get involved in the Shetland Eggcase Hunt click here.
I wanted to talk about grid references, they are very important when it comes to wildlife records as it lets us know exactly where the sighting was so that it can be accurately recorded and mapped. But it can be a tricky thing to get right so thought I would share a couple of ways you can get an accurate grid reference.
To find a grid reference on a map on your PC or phone you can access OS maps online here..
Then if you click on the Grid ref button at the top right and where the cross shaped curser is placed is the shown grid ref. We would like a 6 digit grid ref so you would take the 2 letters and first 3 numbers from each group. I have posted a screen shot to show you…
The second way is via an App on your smartphone. I’m sure there are many free apps out there that can do this which you can search for and download from your app store.
I have the GRID OS FREE app on my phone. It doesn’t show a map but gives you a 6 digit grid ref of where you are standing, which is great for when you are recording when you are out and about.
It is National Gardening Week this week (27th April- 3rd May) so we thought we would share some ideas of plants that grow wel lin Shetland gardens which are a hit with the bumblebees and butterflies.
Willows are great early in the season, especially woolly willow as they have catkins in early spring which are a great food source to the spring bumblebees such as the Northern White-tailed and Shetland Bumblebee. Willows grow well in Shetland and are easily cultivated from cuttings planted straight into the ground. Another early flowering shrub which the bumblebees seem to love in my garden at the moment is the flowering currant.
As we move later into the spring and early summer, shrubs such as the fuchsia and shrub honeysuckle start to produce rafts of beautiful flowers. Fuchsia are especially hardy and seem to come back every year looking better and better!
Flowering plants that are great for borders and pots include: Livingstone daisy, lupins, foxgloves, lavender, allium, chives, echium and poached egg plant.
Sedums such as Autumn Joy and Herbstfreude are good in late summer as their seeds are also a great food source for birds in autumn and winter. Cotoneaster Horizontalis is a compact evergreen which produces small red berries which add some lovely colour to the garden in autumn.
When gardening with wildlife in mind, one of the best things you can do is nothing! Try and leave patches of your garden wild, let the stinging nettles, thistles, dandelions and clover grow, the insects, birds and maybe even a hedgehog will most definitely thank you.