Shetland Butterfly Spot

Now that we are fully into spring and the sun is shining, the butterflies have started to appear back in our gardens and wild areas. There are just five species of butterfly commonly seen in Shetland.

The Large White (Pieris brassicae) is our only resident butterfly and has a bit of a bad rep with the veg growers due to its caterpillar’s choice of lunch! The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) butterflies are all migrant species, the Red Admiral and Painted Lady are regular visitors to flowers in our gardens, with the Small Tortoiseshell being rarer.

Over recent years there has been an increase in the number of sightings of the Peacock (Aglais io) butterfly, another migrant species which is now recorded in Shetland every summer potentially due to the effects of climate change.

There are however 15 species detailed in the Shetland Butterfly ID Leaflet although many of them are very rare, you may just be lucky enough to spot one!

As all but one of the butterflies seen in Shetland are migrants, they can appear each year in very variable numbers, so we need your help to gather accurate records of the butterflies in our islands, both resident and visitors.

Painted Lady (coyright Rob Fray)

You can send your completed survey data straight to SBRC by email to

If you have any questions you can get in touch with the Shetland Community Wildlife Group via our Contact Us page.

Sightings records can be emailed to SBRC with photos if you have them (this is important for evidencing the rarer species). If you have more time, we would love it if you could carry out a short survey in your garden or on a set walking route once a week, or as often as you are able.

Simply download our Butterfly ID Leaflet and Survey Sheet and get spotting!

June Highlights

The Simmer Dim is here, days are at their longest and Shetland’s wildlife is at its busiest, feeding and looking after their young.

Keep your eyes on the sea as you may well get a view of cetaceans such as Orca and Harbour Porpoises. Harbour Seals are pupping in June and may be spotted along the coastline.

In Focus- Red-necked Phalarope

The Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) is the last breeding migrant to return to Shetland, coming back in mid-May. In a recent study by Malcolm Smith et al published in British Birds, it was found that Shetland birds along with populations in Iceland and Greenland overwinter off the coast of Ecuador and Peru and not the Arabian Sea along with the Scandinavian population as was previously thought. They are rare in the British Isles with Shetland having the vast majority of the UK population, although they are much more common in Iceland and Scandinavia.

Red-necked Phalaropes nest amongst vegetation on the shores of fresh-water lochs and are unusual in that it is the male who solely incubates the eggs and looks after the young. It is a complete role reversal with the female having the bright colours and the male looking more drab. She doesn’t bother to hang around to help, she will mate, lay the eggs and then leave the male to it whilst she goes off to find another male.

Moth of the Month- Ghost Moth

Ghost moths (Hepialus humuli) start to fly during June and July and are a common species in Britain. They are so named due to the completely white males, females however are a yellow with orange marks.

The Ghost moth is a type of swift moth which have elongated wings which they hold almost vertically against the body when at rest. The adults have no functioning mouth parts so are unable to feed. They only live a for a short time (June to early Aug) where they will mate and lay eggs. The life-cycle takes two years to complete with the larvae overwintering twice before emerging as adults.

In other news….

As they days get sunnier you are likely to spot a few butterflies flitting around the garden. Our most common species in Shetland are the Large White (Pieris brassicae), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui).

The Large White is currently the only resident butterfly in Shetland and are notorious for their caterpillars munching their way through your cabbages.

Both the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady are annual immigrants to the isles, sometimes seen in large numbers. They can be attracted to gardens with insect friendly planting, my chive plant seemed to be very good at attracting Painted Lady’s last year.

The Red Admirals in our garden congregated around the compost heap to eat the fruit waste so we spiked apple, orange and banana onto tree branches and were delighted with the number of Red Admirals that stopped by for a snack.

June is also the month where there are increased sightings of jellyfish. Moon jellies (Aurelia aurita) are the most commonly spotted, as they grow bigger and sometimes wind driven currents can cause them to accumulate in voes.

Copyright Kathryn Allan

Moon jellies have an interesting two-phase life cycle, alternating between living on the seabed and swimming in the water column. When in the water column these jellyfish spawn (there are male and female moon jellies) and their fertilised eggs fall to  the seabed. Once on the seabed they grow into small (1cm) polyps (which look a little like very small white sea anemones), which in January start to bud  into new jellyfish which are less than 1cm in size. Between January and June, the jellyfish continue to grow before starting to reproduce, completing their life cycle.

There are around 100 species of jellyfish living either permanently or temporarily in Shetland waters and we would love to hear from you about any jellyfish sightings you have. As ocean temperatures change it has been suggested that jellyfish may become more common. Feel free to post any pictures you may have on our Facebook page or send us as email or Facebook message.

Harbour Seals
Copyright Rob Fray

June is pupping season for our Harbour Seals, the smaller of the two seal species we have in Shetland. The Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) is known in old Shetland as ‘tang fish’ which translates to ‘seaweed fish’.

Harbour Seals give birth to a single pup which is able to swim and dive within a few hours of birth. They are suckled by the mother who produces a very fatty and nutrient rich milk which enables the pups to double their weight in the three/four weeks before weening.

Seals have been the subject of persecution in the past, especially the young Harbour Seal pups whose skins were highly priced. For this reason, seals are protected under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. This Act allowed Scottish Ministers powers to designate seal haul-out sites and protect them under the Protection of Seals (Designation of Haul-Out Sites) (Scotland) Order 2014. There are currently 47 designated seal haul-out sites in Shetland where it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturbed or harass seals.

Gardening for Bumblebees and Butterflies

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.

Shetland Bumblebee on a willow
Flowering currant

NAFC Marine Centre UHI secures National Lottery Support

NAFC Marine Centre UHI has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to establish a, ‘Shetland Community Wildlife Group’. This exciting citizen science project will focus on creating a community led group of volunteers interested in Shetland’s varied wildlife.

The project will enable local people to get involved in nature, learn new skills, speak to like-minded people and collect meaningful scientific data. The volunteers will have the chance to take part in surveys and monitoring to answer specific science questions, and will be able to participate in a wide variety of training courses. Data will be used locally to fill knowledge gaps and inform marine and land-based planning decisions as well as feed into national data sets. The project is being launched virtually to allow people to participate within current social distancing guidelines.

Through our website and social media we will be giving people the opportunity to learn and monitor nature in their own patch. With spring (hopefully) just around the corner, we would love people to take the time to count and record nature they see in their garden or on their daily walk and for those of you near the coast, there are many marine and coastal projects that you can get involved in. Bumblebees and butterflies are easy to record from gardens and walks, and as important pollinators, recording the different species found in Shetland and how they are changing (for instance due to climate change) is very important. We are also keen to hear from people who are fortunate enough to be able to see and count cetaceans from their house or on their daily walk, especially porpoises.

Commenting on the award, project manager Kathryn Allan said “We are thrilled to have received support thanks to National Lottery players and are confident the project will support the Shetland community in becoming more involved in the monitoring of the islands amazing natural heritage”

If you are interested in getting involved in the project please get in touch with Kathryn at or visit You can also find us on Facebook, just search ‘Shetland Community Wildlife’

Shetland’s natural heritage is an important part of the islands identity as well as economic value through industries such as fishing and aquaculture, tourism and recreation. Many of the species and habitats are locally, nationally and even internationally important. Monitoring and investigation of these species and habitats is important if they are to be protected whilst still allowing the marine economy in Shetland to thrive.

Once the restrictions have been relaxed we will officially launch the group and take on larger scale projects such as Shetland wide porpoise surveys to gather information on seasonal area hotspot and working with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) to learn how to undertake a cetacean Shorewatch. Activities will be varied and will be spread around locations covering most of Shetland. They will also be aimed at all abilities; we will advertise each activity with a description of the level of physical ability required. We will also be working with Ability Shetland to be able to offer all terrain wheel chairs to create greater accessibility for all.

The three-year project has been made possible by money raised by National Lottery players. is being co-ordinated by the Marine Spatial Planning section of the NAFC Marine Centre UHI with advice and support from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Shetland Amenity Trusts’ Biological Records Centre.