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.