Our brilliant volunteers have now been completing surveys for Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) since September 2021 at dedicated survey sites in Quendale Bay, Mousa Sound and South Nesting Bay as well as reporting sightings from all areas of Shetland. The Shetland Porpoise survey is led by UHI Shetland through the Shetland Community Wildlife Group in collaboration with WDC Shorewatch and NatureScot.
Site Focus- South Nesting Bay
Volunteers have undertaken over 50 watches
Out of those watches porpoises were seen on41 occasions
They were seen every month from October to March
with groups of over 50 individuals being recorded on occasions.
An amazing effort considering the weather and short daylight hours we have over the winter here in Shetland.
During the surveys we have seen and managed to capture on film, some really interesting behaviour which has not been documented in Shetland before, and very rarely elsewhere in the world!
From the shore we had often been seeing individuals ‘rushing’ at other porpoises creating a fair bit of motion and splashing. Thanks to Richard Shucksmith and Nick McCaffrey, who managed to capture drone footage of porpoise groups, we have been able to see this behaviour more clearly and can see that the porpoises are performing behaviours linked to mating – males rush towards females in mating attempts and flash their undersides to the females as a form of display.
Rachel Shucksmith from UHI Shetland says;
“porpoises around Shetland can often be overlooked, but at locations like South Nesting Bay, Mousa Sound and Quendale Bay we are seeing large aggregations. The effort-based shore observations and drone footage can provide important insights into porpoise behaviour. Observations from outside of our watch sites are also important and we encourage reporting of sightings across Shetland. We are also really keen to get further drone footage, particularly at South Nesting Bay and at our site overlooking Mousa Sound, so if you are a drone pilot and have experience filming wildlife we would love to hear from you!”
The work being undertaken by our volunteers at our porpoise survey sites will help us gain a better understanding of porpoises around Shetland and how they use different areas during different times of the year.
It will be used as a preliminary dataset for PhD student Sophie Smith, who will be starting in October 2022. Sophie will be based at UHI Shetland, supervised by Rachel Shucksmith, Prof Ben Wilson (SAMS UHI), Dr Lauren McWhinnie (Heriot Watt University), as well as benefiting from the expertise of the UHI team behind the Shetland Community Wildlife Group, Emma Steel and the team at Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Marine Scotland Science, and from Shetland based marine mammal expert at NatureScot, Karen Hall. The studentship is funded via the SUPER Doctoral Training Programme.
The Shetland Community Wildlife Group along with Whale and Dolphin Conservation will be supporting the project by continuing to undertake surveys, reporting one-off sightings and helping to capture drone footage and images of porpoise behaviour.
The studentship will then explore the use of these data collection techniques to further investigate porpoise behaviour, and spatial and temporal use relevant to their conservation and management.
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.
Why is Seagrass Important?
Seagrass provides a number of important functions for humans as well as other marine life…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) co-ordinate the bird ringing scheme for Britain and Ireland. Each year around 900,000 birds are ringed over 2,600 trained ringers. Ringing allows for the collection of scientific information on survival rates, productivity and bird movements. The rings are made from light weight metal, each inscribed with a unique number. These rings are placed around the bird’s leg which is completely harmless and does not affect the bird in any way.
“Ringing allows us to study how many young birds leave the nest and survive to become adults, as well as how many adults survive the stresses of breeding, migration and severe weather. Changes in survival rates and other aspects of birds’ biology help us to understand the causes of population declines.”BTO website
Birds are caught using mist nest, a type of fine mesh net between two poles. The birds fly into these nets and become trapped. They are safely removed by trained ringers who apply the ring and take weights and measurements from the birds. Chicks are also ringed in the nest.
Other types of rings used are colour rings. These can be on the legs (often seen on wading birds) or around the neck of larger birds (geese and swans) the colour combinations and/or numbers can usually be read through binoculars or a scope. There is a Greylag goose frequently seen around the south end of Shetland with this type of neck ring.
What to do if you find a bird with a ring
You can report metal and colour rings through the BTOs reporting website here
Metal rings can be near impossible to read on a healthy bird. Most rings found by the general public are from dead, injured or trapped birds. (The BTO themselves do co-ordinate re-capture projects where ring numbers and measurements are taken and the bird is released). BTO rings and colour rings, as well as rings from other institutions throughout Europe can be reported to this website just follow the onscreen instructions.
We have selected a fantastic array of books by local and national authors and publishers that will give you an insight into the wildlife in our islands and help you to identify your sightings.
A Naturalist’s Shetland
J Laughton Johnston
This book provides a good overview of all species that can be found in Shetland from plankton to mammals and where/when is a good time to see them. It also provides snippets of Shetland’s culture and heritage.
Available from Shetland Library
The Birds of Shetland
Mike Pennington, Kevin Osborn, Paul Harvey, Roger Riddington, Dave Okill, Pete Ellis and Martin Heubeck
A very useful repository of the bird species that have been found in Shetland. It has been written and compiled by some of the top bird experts in Shetland.
Available from Shetland Library
Discover Shetland’s Birds
Paul Harvey and Rebecca Nason
This is a beautiful photographic guide of Shetland’s birds with stunning photographs taken by the Rebecca Nason, renowned wildlife photographer and text by Paul Harvey, local wildlife expert.
Available from Shetland Library
Shetland Bird Report
Shetland Bird Club
A copy of the Shetland Bird Report is published every year detailing the species which have been found in the isles that year including all the rarities with details on where and when they were found. Contains lots of amazing photographs from local and visiting enthusiasts.
Current available issue is for 2018. The 2019 report is to be published in the new year. They are available from the Nature in Shetland website, the home of the Shetland Bird club here
Back catalogue available from Shetland Library
Otters in Shetland: The tale of the draatsi
Richard Shucksmith and Brydon Thomason
This book is packed full of stunning photographs of otters taken all over Shetland. The accompanying text gives a glimpse into their world with lots of information on all aspects of their lives.
Available from Shetland Library
Shetland’s Wild Flowers: a photographic guide
Pictorial guide to the wildflowers in Shetland with large clear pictures. Details when they flower, habitat preference and growing sites.
Available from Shetland Library
Collins Bird Guide (2nd Edition)
Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney, Dan Zettersrom and Peter J. Grant
Well regarded as the most comprehensive bird guide on the market and is used by bird enthusiasts as a general ID guide.
1st edition available from Shetland Library
Britain’s Sea Mammals
John Dunn, Robert Still and Hugh Harrop
Provides details of all the whales, dolphins, porpoises and seal species in the UK including how to identify them and where best to spot them. The book has some great photographs and illustrations of how each species would be seen surfacing and moving through the water.
Available from Shetland Library
Collins Complete Guide to British Coastal Wildlife
Paul Sterry and Andrew Cleave
This book covers all coastal habitats from estuaries to rocky shores and sandy beaches, a complete overview of all marine life, plants, birds and mammals. A great guide to take rock pooling.
Marine Fish and Invertebrates of Northern Europe
Frank Emil Moen and Erling Svensen
This book is useful as it covers species which are likely to be found in Northern waters. With Shetland being so far north species distribution can vary from the rest of the UK. This book covers intertidal to deeper water species so would be great for anyone interested in snorkelling and SCUBA diving.
The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline
Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher
A great book for anyone with an interest in beachcombing. It gives details and photographs of a wide variety of both natural and manmade treasures that are waiting to be found on the beach.
Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (2nd Edition)
Martin Townsend, Paul Waring and Richard Lewington
For anyone interested in moths this book is a great all-round guide to the most common moths found in the UK. Brilliant illustrations all actual size or to scale with details of when they fly and the plants they feed on.
There are a number of different goose species that visit Shetland, the most common being the Greylag Goose which has become a resident species in recent years with a number of individuals staying into the spring and summer to breed. The geese species can be broadly split into two groups, the ‘grey’ geese species in the genus Anser and those within the Branta genus such as the Barnacle Goose. It can be very difficult to identify one species from another, especially the ‘grey’ geese which look very similar and are often seen in mixed flocks when on the ground.
This article will take you through each of the species detailing the main features that tell each one apart. The different species also have different calls which can be a good way to identify flocks in flight.
Need ID help in the field? Download our handy ID leaflet here produced with assistance from Shetland Bird Club.
The only resident goose in Shetland. Historically they were passage migrants, arriving in the isles in late autumn and overwintering before heading away further north to breed in the spring. In recent years, they have started to appear in larger numbers, flocks of several hundred can be gathered in fields in autumn and winter. There were records of breeding pairs in Unst and Fetlar in the 1970’s but in the late 1990’s the number of pairs staying in the isles to breed dramatically increased and has been steadily increasing since. This increase is thought to coincide with a 250% rise in grassland areas in Shetland from 7,000ha in 1981 to almost 20,000ha in 1996.
Identifying features- largest/ bulkiest of the ‘grey’ geese species with a large orange beak and pink legs. In flight their upper wings are pale grey in colour. Their call is similar to that of domestic species with a loud, raw ‘ank-ang-ang’ sound, although their repertoire is quite varied.
A common passage migrant. Large flocks, sometimes in their thousands, pass over Shetland heading south in late September/ early October but the majority do not land. Those that do make a pit stop in the isles can be spotted in amongst the flocks of Greylag Geese. A handful of individuals have overwintered in Shetland most years usually in the Dunrossness area. Pink-footed Geese also migrate through Shetland in the Spring but in much lower numbers.
Identifying features- Smaller than Taiga Bean Goose and equal in size to Tundra Bean Goose but as its name suggests, they have pink legs in comparison to the bean geese (although this can be difficult to establish at a distance). They have a small, short, dark beak with a pink band, and a dark head and neck. Call similar to the bean geese species but of higher pitched ‘ca-ca-ca’ sound.
Another common passage migrant which passes over without often making landfall. Peak numbers seen from end September to early October but smaller numbers continuing until early November. Occasionally, large flocks of several hundred do land in the isles, this autumn (2020) a group of approximately 850 were seen on the ground in Scatness.
Identifying features- easily identifiable medium sized goose with white under belly and grey, black and white barred upperparts. Black neck, white face with a small black beak. Very vocal when in flight making a single ‘kaw’ sound.
A winter visitor in Shetland, their arrival is usually linked to cold weather on the European mainland which encourages them to seek milder conditions. In a usual year between 10 and 40 individuals arrive in the Isles, however some years there are more, such as 2011, when at least 300 were sighted throughout the islands in November including a flock of 80 at Spiggie.
Identifying features- medium sized ‘grey’ goose species, smaller than a Greylag, similar in size to a Pink-footed Goose. They are browner in colour than the other ‘grey’ goose species with prominent black patches on its underbelly, bright orange legs, pinkish beak and the white blaze around the face between the eye and the beak which gives it its name. Their call is described as having a laughing quality to it and being more high-pitched and musical than other species. Often heard making this ‘Kyu-yu-yu’ sound when in flight.
Bean geese were recently split into two unique species, the Tundra Bean Goose and the Taiga Bean Goose. They are very difficult to distinguish from one another, the only real noticeable difference is the size and shape of the bill. Most likely to be seen in the winter between November and March.
Identifying features- the Tundra Bean Goose has a shorter, heavier bill and the orange/yellow colouration is limited to a small band around the bill. The Tundra Bean Goose is also slightly smaller than the Taiga Bean Goose, similar in size to the Pink-footed Goose. Call is a trumpeting ‘ung-unk’ similar to Pink-footed but deeper pitched.
A very scarce migrant in Shetland with only a handful of individuals each year. Most commonly sighted in the winter months between September and April. Two subspecies occur, the Dark-bellied Brent Goose (B.b.bernicla) and the Pale-bellied Brent Goose (B.b hrota). The later is more commonly seen in Shetland.
Identifying features- in the same genus as the Barnacle Goose, the Brent Goose is slightly smaller and browner in colour, they have a dark neck similar to the Barnacle Goose but lack the white colouration on their face. Noisy and repetitive ‘rhut’ call.
Introduced into the UK from America and now common in most of the UK but rare in Shetland. Most likely to be seen from April-June.
Identifying features- large, easily identifiable goose. Body mainly brown in colour. Long neck with black colouration which does not extend down onto the breast as it does in the Barnacle Goose. Also, a white patch on the head that does not extend up and over the eye. Vocal goose with a repetitive ‘awr-lut’ with the second syllable higher pitched.
A very rare vagrant from Europe, the last record in Shetland was of two individuals in 2016 (one in Whalsay in February and one in Sumburgh in October). Easily confused with the Tundra Bean Goose.
Identifying features- the bill is longer and slimmer than that of the Tundra Bean Goose with a larger proportion of orange/yellow colouration. The Taiga bean goose is also slightly larger with a longer neck in comparison to the Tundra Bean Goose, more similar in size to a Greylag Goose. Call indiscernible from that of the Tundra Bean Goose (trumpeting ‘ung-unk’ similar to Pink-footed but deeper pitched).
Very rare species in Shetland. Individuals arrive on occasion, but their true status is confused by the presence of a feral breeding population in other areas of the UK meaning we can never be sure if they are completely wild.
Identifying features- medium sized, comparable to Pink-footed Goose. Snow Geese occur in two colour morphs: White with black wing tips or blue/grey body and wings with a white head and tail tip. Crackling call ‘ak-ak’
It should be noted that there are many local populations of domesticated geese around Shetland that may be spotted in fields and on lochs. As most domestic geese are thought to originate from the Greylag Goose species, they are similar in appearance but will often have markings of white anywhere on their body/head.
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.
To help preserve our prickly friends, please report your sightings on the Big Hedgehog Map an initiative set up by People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.
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 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.
A local naturalist and wildlife photographer, Rebecca has a passion for hoverflies and has recently created a leaflet to help people identify and record these garden visitors…..
“We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of species, populations and distribution of hoverflies on Shetland, with only a few naturalists delving into their identification and recording them. With understanding of Shetland hoverflies still in its infancy, there is still much to learn and add to the current database of knowledge. These are exciting times for the Shetland naturalist; with so much to still explore and understand, anyone can really make a difference to biological recording in the Islands.”
We welcome your Shetland hoverfly records or photographs for identification. Please use the Shetland Insect Group on Facebook Page, or contact Paul Harvey at Shetland Biological Records Centre (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please don’t forget to add a location (grid reference if possible) and a date to your discoveries.