It’s Our Nature: Shetland Volunteer Showcase

On May 4th, Species on the Edge, RSPB Shetland Reserves, Biosecurity for Life, the Shetland Community Wildlife Group, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation are coming together to celebrate outstanding achievements for nature in Shetland and to launch new opportunities to get involved in conservation action across Shetland with a Volunteer Showcase event.

Nature in Shetland is very special. Not only is this something that many people who live in and visit Shetland will tell you, but it is also evident in the fact that Shetland is one of the most biodiverse places in the UK. Shetland is one of the last refuge for some of our most beautiful and unusual, but also most vulnerable species.

Since 1970, a staggering 49% of species across Scotland have experienced declines according to the 2019 State of Nature Scotland report. Of these, 91 species are considered critically endangered at a risk of disappearing altogether. We rely on these species for our way of life – for the joy and inspiration they bring and the critical functions they provide to support our existence. Places such as Shetland are therefore disproportionately important as strongholds for some of the species that are sliding towards the edge.

The exceptional importance of Shetland for nature is reflected in the passion and activities of organisations, communities and individuals across the islands who deliver dedicated and effective conservation action.

These include the Shetland Community Wildlife Group (SCWG), run by UHI Shetland, who alongside Whale and Dolphin Conservation Shorewatch, focus on monitoring and recording Shetland’s marine natural heritage.

Shetland inshore waters are an important area for harbour porpoise who aggregate in unusually large numbers in hotspots around Shetland. Yet little is known about this under-recorded species! SCWG rely on volunteers undertaking short shore-based surveys to create a clearer picture of when porpoise are using different areas and for what reason. This data will be crucial in protecting the porpoise, Shetland’s smallest cetacean. SCWG are also currently leading on mapping and surveying historical records of seagrass beds, whose role in carbon capture and biodiversity is being increasingly recognised.

Seabirds easily capture the imagination, especially in a place such as Shetland where they move so seamlessly between the land and sea that govern their existence and fortunes, as well as those of the people who call these islands home. Unfortunately, it is well known that seabirds are facing growing challenges at sea including climate change, being entangled in fishing gear (bycatch), and plastic pollution of the oceans.

On land, the major threat to seabirds is from invasive non-native mammalian predators including rats, mice, stoats, hedgehogs, mink and feral cats. As these predators are not native to the islands where seabirds breed, adult birds, chicks and eggs are very vulnerable to predation from them. The Biosecurity for Life project has been working in Shetland for the last three years implementing biosecurity measures to help protect the seabirds that nest throughout Shetland by raising awareness, setting up surveillance, and preparing for future incursions.

Fulmar. (c) Rob Fray

Stoat. (c) Jim Nicholson

Red-necked phalarope. (c) Rob Fray

Also protecting birds in Shetland are RSPB Scotland, who look after 14 reserves across the islands, from RSPB Sumburgh Head in the South Mainland to sites for red-necked phalarope in Fetlar and Unst. The reserves team follow a programme of monitoring and survey work, to keep track of how important species are faring. This goes hand in hand with habitat management work to keep sites in the best condition possible to give breeding birds in Shetland the best chance of success, while ensuring that visitors can enjoy the breathtaking wildlife spectacle. Much of this work is supported by the hard work, time, and talents of volunteers.

On May 4th, these organisations are coming together for a Volunteer Showcase event to celebrate some of the amazing work that has been performed to safeguard the special nature of Shetland, and to launch exciting opportunities to get involved in further conservation action across Shetland.

This event will also mark the launch of Species on the Edge in Shetland, a new partnership programme of eight nature conservation organisations, dedicated to reversing the decline of 37 priority species across Scotland’s coasts and islands. Throughout the 4.5 year programme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Species on the Edge will be working with local communities across Scotland’s coasts and islands to help them protect their local biodiversity. RSPB Scotland will be taking the lead on a programme of activity in Shetland to support red-necked phalarope, curlew, lapwing, twite, Shetland bumblebee, oysterplant, endemic hawkweeds, and the plantain leaf beetle.

We warmly welcome anyone to join us for this event, running from 3:30-7pm in Room 12 at Isleburgh Community Centre, featuring the following activities:

3:30pm: Doors open – come and peruse stands and talk to RSPB Scotland, Shetland Community Wildlife Group and Whale and Dolphin Conservation staff to learn more about existing and upcoming projects and opportunities to get involved.

4pm: Enjoy birding and a Shorewatch demonstration at the Sletts just a few minutesfrom Isleburgh.

6pm: Listen to some talks highlighting some of the amazing past, present and planned conservation work in Shetland and how you can get involved.

6:30pm: Meet and connect with like-minded people through some volunteer networking activities.

We welcome people to join for the whole afternoon or to come along for the parts that are of interest to them. Refreshments will be provided and please note that this is an accessible venue.

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!

October Highlights

The autumn bird migration is now in full swing. This month will bring a mass arrival of thrushes including migrant Blackbirds, Redwings, Fieldfares and Song Thrushes. It is a good idea to keep those feeders topped up during this month as this can attract the common migrants such as Brambling, Chaffinch, and Siskins. Slice and spear apple onto tree branches and you may be rewarded with a sighting of the fruit loving Waxwing and Blackcap. Keep an eye out for the UKs smallest bird, the Goldcrest, weighing it at a mere 6g! They are very distinctive with their yellow/gold strip down their head. They are insect eaters so will often be seen flitting amongst bushes catching small bugs and flies.

In Focus- Grey Seal Pups

Seems a strange time of year of any animal to decide to start giving birth, especially a marine animal just as the strong winds and storms start to blow through tossing up the sea. But there is method in the madness it seems, after a full summer of feasting on rich oily fish the mothers are in the best shape to give birth and suckle their young.

Grey Seal mum and pup.
Copyright Rob Fray
Newborn Grey Seal pup.
Copyright Rob Fray
Grey Seal pup.
Copyright Rob Fray

Grey seal pups are born on quiet, often remote beaches. The mothers haul themselves up onto the beach to give birth to their white fluffy young. The young will stay on this beach suckling their mother’s rich milk for around a month in which time they can put on 30kg in weight every 2 weeks. While the mothers are busy with their young, the male Grey Seals, who can weigh up to 300kg and grow to 2metres in length, stalk the beach fighting with other males to keep their territory and ‘harem’ of females. Once the females have finished suckling their young, they will mate with the dominant male before heading back to the sea leaving their pups alone on the beach. They will stay here for around another 2 weeks while they moult their white fluff and become brave enough to head out into the unpredictable winter seas.

Seals have been the subject of persecution in the past, especially the young Grey Seal pups whose white 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.

Moth of the Month- Rosy Rustic

It is getting pretty late in the year for moths but with favourable weather and light winds the Rosy Rustic (Hydraecia micacea) is one of the few that will still be seen in the moth trap. They are a common resident flying from August-October. There size can vary greatly with females generally being larger and darker. The forewings are pointed and pinkish/brown with a rather velvety texture and darker margins in the centre. Adults will lay their eggs on the food plant (a low growing plant such as docks, potatoes, horse tails and yellow iris) before dying off. The eggs overwinter with the larva hatching in April, pupating underground without a cocoon before emerging as an adult in August.

Rosy Rustic
Copyright Rob Fray

In other news…

One of the more curious birds to arrive in October is the Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor). They have grey backs, white underbellies and black and white markings on the wings and tail. Their most distinctive feature is their black mask and sharp hooked beak, giving them their nickname the ‘masked assassin’.

What makes these guys so interesting is their feeding habits. They are predatory, hunting small mammals, birds and lizards which they beat to death with their beaks. In Shetland they often hunt on Goldcrests which are passing through in high numbers at this time of year. They are lone hunters, sitting in wait on a vantage point such as a fence post. They can even imitate other birds calls to try and lure its prey closer. Now for the gruesome bit…once they have made a kill they will cache it for later by impaling it onto thorns and branches within a bush hidden from other predators.

Great Grey Shrike.
Copyright Rob Fray

As they are members of the passerine (songbird) family they have weak feet that are not designed for holding their prey, by impaling it onto a thorn or stick they can use this to secure the food while they use their beaks to pull it apart and devour it. So, if you happen to spot a bush adorned with small dead birds, you’ll know there is a Great Grey Shrike not far away!

September Highlights

It is starting to feel very autumnal now we are into September. The sun seems to be only glimpsed on occasion, the wind is back and there is a chill in the air. It will soon be time to click the heating on and get the fire lit.

Much of the birdlife has already started to move on. The seabirds were the first to leave, the cliffs at Sumburgh head are all bare now that the Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills have left to spend the winter at sea although you may still find Fulmars and Gannets with large young still in the nest. The insect life in the garden will be getting less too as species such as the bumblebees, moths and butterflies migrate or look for a cosy place to hibernate over the winter.

In Focus- Autumn Migration

September is the peak month for the autumn bird migration in Shetland where the birds, having finished breeding, are heading back to their wintering grounds crossing through Shetland en route. During favourable weather conditions (easterly winds) large numbers of migrants and even some vagrants (birds who have been blown off course) can appear in Shetland. Some more memorable visitors have included: Siberian Rubythroat, Chestnut-eared Bunting and Siberian Accentor. Remember to provide a shallow dish of water, as many of these birds have flown a long away and will be thirsty as well as hungry.

Siberian Accentor
Copyright: Rob Fray

Some of the more difficult migrants to identify are the Warblers as many species can be very similar in appearance. Warblers are mostly insect eaters and may be seen flitting between bushes and shrubs in the garden catching small bugs. I will introduce you to a handful of the more common species but if you are unsure of an ID and have managed to get a photograph you can email it to us at or if you are on Facebook, post it on the Nature in Shetland Photos group where there are a lot of local enthusiasts who can help.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

The Willow Warbler is a small warbler (10.5-11.5cm) with a pale underbelly and a green/grey upper body and wings. As many of the individuals passing through in Autumn are juveniles, they tend to be brighter yellow in colour. They have a light-yellow stripe above the eye. They are very similar in appearance to the Chiffchaff but have pale pink legs. Willow Warblers are earlier migrants than the Chiffchaff, commonly seen in early September.

Willow Warbler
Copyright: Rob Fray

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Chiffchaffs are a similar size (10-11cm) to Willow Warblers but have a more olive-brown colouration, a paler eye stripe and dark grey-black legs. They flit quickly between branches and when stationary express a distinctive tail-wagging behaviour which Willow Warblers do not. Chiffchaffs arrive towards the end of September through until early November.

Ken Billington / CC BY-SA

Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus)

The Yellow-browed Warbler is another small warbler, slightly smaller in size to the Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. They are a little easier to identify than the previous two: they are greenish brown in colour with a pale underbelly, they have a thick, distinctive eye stripe which gives them their ‘yellow-browed’ name and two light coloured wing bars. Formerly, the Yellow-browed Warbler was a very scarce migrant but in recent years they have appeared in much greater numbers to the extent that in late September they are now often the most common migrant warbler in Shetland.

Yellow-browed Warbler
Copyright Rob Fray

Other warblers passing through this month include: Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Barred Warbler.

Moth of the Month- Square-spot Rustic

The number of moths flying and coming to the moth trap will be starting to slow down this month as the colder, windier weather of the Autumn starts to come in. One of the later flying moths that is common into September is the Square-spot Rustic (Xestia xanthographa). They get their name from the rather conspicuous square kidney shaped mark on the forewings. Colour can vary from shades of red, grey and brown. I often see the reddish/chestnut colouration which I think is especially pretty.

They are sugar eaters and can be seen feeding on plants such as Ragwort, Heather and Marram. Some years they are seen in large numbers, best seen at dusk over grassland areas.

In other news…

There are a handful of different dolphin species that can be spotted around the Shetland coast. Risso’s Dolphins are resident in the isles and are the most commonly seen. Atlantic White-sided Dolphins are rare vagrants but when they do arrive, they are often in what is known as a ‘super pod’ of 50-100 individuals. White-beaked Dolphins are resident, but sightings are reasonably rare.

Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus) are a large species of dolphin growing up to 4m in length. They are what is known as a beakless dolphin as they have a bulbous square-shaped head. They are dark in colour but become whiter with age, mature animals are often covered in many scars and scratches. These scars come about from fights with other Risso’s and from their favourite prey- squid. Individuals animals can be identified by their unique pattern of scars. They can appear in groups of 50+ individuals although in Shetland, groups of over 20 are rarely seen.

Risso’s Dolphin with calf
Copyright: Rob Fray

August Highlights

The sun is still shining (some of the time) and summer is still in the air but the wildlife will be starting to slow down a little. Our garden birds have successfully reared possibly up to three broods of young who have fledged the nest. Some species, such as Curlews, Starlings, Golden Plovers and Oyster Catchers are starting to flock together in quite large numbers now that breeding has finished. Take a look in the cut fields (favoured feeding area for many wading birds) in your area and you may spot Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit in amongst the flocks of Curlews. Our seabirds are also starting to head back out to sea for the winter so these first couple of weeks in August may be your last chance to head up to Sumburgh Head to catch a sight of the puffins.

In Focus-Rockpools

Shetland has a variety of seashore habitats from the long pale sandy beaches of the South Mainland to the red sands of Eshaness in the North. An abundance of low rocky shore in between gives plenty of opportunities for a spot of rockpooling. One of the best spots is Leebitten at the North end of Sandwick which has a large expanse of seaweed cover rocks and pools at low tide.

Within these areas you will find an array of different species perfectly adapted for living in this harsh, ever changing environment. To find out more about the species to spot, take a look at our Inside a Shetland Rockpool post. And don’t forget to keep a look out for any alien invaders and non-native species, check out our Marine NNS post for more details.

Copyright Rachel Shucksmith
Copyright Kathryn Allan

It is a perfect summer activity to do with children giving them an opportunity to explore nature hands on, just remember to put anything you find back once you have finished looking at it and replace and upturned rock and weed.

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, f you find yourself in trouble call 999 and ask for the coastguard.

Moth of the Month- Large Yellow Underwing

The Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba) is a large moth with a wingspan of around 45-55mm. This distinctive moth gets its name from the yellow/orange coloured underwings only visible during flight when the forewings are open. It is a common resident moth in Shetland, active from July to September but often has a peak in numbers in August. Can be found in a range of habitats from moorland to grassland and gardens where, during the day they take cover amongst ground vegetation where they can be seen flying for cover if disturbed.

Copyright: Jacy Lucier / CC BY-SA (

In other news…

Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) are a relatively common sight around Shetland waters in August where they can be seen feeding just off the coast. They are the smallest of the baleen whales growing to around 8-9 metres long and living up to 50 years.

They are black to dark grey with a white underbelly and have distinctive white bands around their pectoral fins (flippers). They have a long, pointed snout and two blow holes on top of their heads.

NOAA / Public domain

Baleen whales- Filter feeding whales with large baleen plates in their mouths instead of teeth. Baleen is made from keratin, the same substance in hair and nails so is stiff yet elastic and is layered in plates in two rows along the top jaw of baleen whales somewhat like combs of thick hair. When feeding, water is taken into the mouth and pushed out through the baleen plates to filter out food such as krill and plankton which is then swallowed.

Copyright Karen Hall

The most common UK sightings of Minke whales are in Scotland and Shetland has its fair share. They are often spotted from cliffs and headlands where they can be seen fishing in strong currents. They fish by taking in large quantities of seawater known as ‘lunge feeding’. Long pleats in their throat allow it to expand and take in large mouthfuls. The water is then forced back out through the baleen plates and the prey swallowed. They have a varied diet feeding on a range of small fish, krill and zooplankton.

“The minke whale, like all cetaceans, is protected as a European Protected Species (EPS). EPS legislation protects all species of cetacean from deliberate and reckless killing, injury and disturbance. Information on how to minimise the risk of activities which may kill, injure or disturb minke whales is set out in Marine Scotland’s guidance on The protection of marine European Protected Species from injury and disturbance.

The minke whale is also a Priority Marine Feature in Scotland’s seas and has recently been included within two of four additional Nature Conservation MPA proposals for designation to complete the Scottish MPA network.

The Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code provides the best guidance for wildlife watching operators, and will help us all enjoy and support the conservation of this wonderful baleen whale.”


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. 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.

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.