Category: Nature

Simmer Dim

Burra rowers

Welcome to this month’s issue of Shetland Life. This is the Simmer Dim, or midsummer, and we are spoiled with daylight –  basking in it for up to 19 hours a day. This means more opportunities to get out and about. With this in mind, Shetland Life have been getting out too. This month we head to Fethaland, Hoswick Visitor Centre and Alex Garrick-Wright takes to the water to find out about competitive rowing as the season kicks off.

Having so much daylight has other implications, and demands other aspects of our time – in the garden everything is bursting into life. Shetland has a very short growing season – under 100 days – that means that most of our growing is done now. With this in mind Ali Grundon Robertson visits local producers at Turriefield in Sandness and Misa shares some of her tips for the garden this month.

And you’ll remember Fenton and Friends from last month? Yes, they’re back for more adventures this month!

Next month the schools break for the summer holidays, and we would like to help you make the most of them. We’re compiling a summer holiday bucket list for you to cut out and take on your adventures. But we need your help. Do you have a favourite place to visit, picnic or play? If so, get in touch and let us know and maybe it will be added to the list. Send your suggestions to And, whatever you’re up to, we love to hear about it, use our hashtag for the chance to be featured online or in the magazine #myshetlandlife.

Even if you’re not in Shetland, you can still keep up-to-date with all the latest. Remember you can subscribe to Shetland life online at and let us know if you have any comments or suggestions at

As ever, have a great month and enjoy Shetland Life – OUT NOW!

The birds and the bees!

Welcome to this month’s issue of Shetland Life. May is a big month here, certainly a firm favourite of mine  – everything springs to life with vigour, and here at Shetland Life we want to capture an essence of that.

This month Shetland Life are telling you all about the birds and the bees. May is a month of activity; life is bursting forth in anticipation of summer. We are celebrating Shetland’s diverse nature this month with features on some of our smallest creatures who do one of the most important jobs – pollination. And we’re celebrating the return of our very welcome summer visitors – the seabirds. With almost 1,000,000 breeding pairs, there’s a lot to shout about, and Paul Harvey is on hand to tell us more.

Elsewhere, Alex Garrick-Wright travels to Australia (or, East Burra) to the Outpost where he meets some unusual spring arrivals… We also introduce some new members to the Shetland Life team. I’ll give you a clue, they all have four legs and love an adventure! All this and more in this month’s Shetland Life, OUT NOW!

With the year galloping along, it has got us thinking about summer holiday activities here in Shetland. What are your favourite places? Where do you take your children, friends or dogs on an adventure? We would love to hear from you with any suggestions so that we can produce a helpful summer holiday ‘must do’ checklist for all the family. Send your suggestions along with a photo we can use) to And, whatever you’re up to, we love to hear about it, use our hashtag for the chance to be featured online or in the magazine #myshetlandlife.

Even if you’re not in Shetland, you can still keep up-to-date with all the latest. Remember you can subscribe to Shetland life online at and let us know if you have any comments or suggestions at

As ever, have a great month and enjoy Shetland Life –  OUT NOW!

A new year, a new start

This month Shetland Life are set to dive into the New Year feet first and we hope that you will join us for the ride. We go through the keyhole, taking a sneaky peek behind the scenes of Squad 43. And, with Up-Helly-A’ looming, we meet this year’s Jarl, John Nicolson, and discover how he became the fourth Nicolson Jarl – following in the footsteps of his father and brothers before him.

For those opting for better health and wellbeing in 2019, look out for our new columnist, Ali Grundon Robertson who this month focuses on consumerism. Finally, our new feature – in collaboration with RSPB Scotland – introduces a monthly Nature Calendar and examines the health benefits of a daily dose of fresh air, ensuring that you put your best foot forward into the New Year.

What are you waiting for? Look out for this month’s Shetland Life, in shops and online now!

Choose Shetland Life

Choose a Life, choose a career, choose Shetland as your base to enjoy what you do.

Our 450th edition of Shetland Life magazine is out on Friday 6th April 2018 and we are delighted to give everyone the opportunity to see our latest design and new content by giving it away FREE.

We’ve chosen to showcase Shetland in our main feature with a photography special and fantastic photos from around the islands. 50 top tips from well know local photographers are also included to help you take your best photos ever. 

An interactive music page, delicious recipes, film reviews, health and wellness, competitions, updated puzzle page and fast paced article sections are just some of our new items.

Choose Shetland Life monthly magazine to keep you up to date with everything we know you love about Shetland and its community life – we’d love you to join our growing readership.

Print and digital subscriptions are available at


The sky’s the limit!

For an up-lifting read, choose #Shetland Life monthly magazine – FREE NEXT WEEK with your purchase of Friday 6th April 2018 edition of The Shetland Times newspaper. We hope you enjoy our latest short film which was shot at the beautiful St Ninians Isle.

The new interactive music page within our magazine will allow you to play that funky music!


Damselfly Days

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Make the most of last few sunny summer days with Helen Robertson’s speedcrafting project.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a damselfly in Shetland. The brightness and vivid colour of its abdomen was like nothing else I’d seen in Shetland. Here’s a damselfly you can make to brighten up your garden.


  • Wire (around 0.9mm thick). Any pliable wire will do. I used coloured copper
  • Lighter wire (0.6mm)
  • Lace curtain
  • Glue
  • Assorted beads and buttons
  • Dowel rod (around 50cm)


  • Pliers
  • Scissors
  • Method

To make the wings:

  • Cut 4 lengths of wire around 25cm long.
  • Gently fold the wire in half. Holding it around 5cm up the double stem, twist the ends together a couple of times (at the 5cm point).
  • Shape each piece into a dragonfly/damselfly wing shape.
  • Make 3 further wings.
  • Cut a piece of lace curtain twice the size of each wing.
  • Lay each wing on top of the lace curtain piece, glue around the wire outline and fold the curtain over. Press until it sticks.
  • When dry, cut around the edge of the wings.

To make the head:

  • Cut a length of the 0.9mm wire around 50cm long.
  • Thread through a button and fix it in the middle of the piece of wire by either threading through the button holes or the back (depending on the style of your buttons).
  • Thread a big bead in the middle of the two buttons.
  • Take the wire into the middle of the centre bead and pull it tightly.

To make the body and abdomen:

  • Form the body by threading one of the wires through a big bead and letting the other wire cling to the side of the same bead. Twist the end a couple of times to fix.
  • Next, take each wing and twist the ends of the wing around the middle wires.
  • Attach all the wings in this way.
  • Now cut a 50cm length of the lighter wire and attach beads down the length of the abdomen by twisting each one individually around the centre wires. The damselfly abdomen is made up from 10 segments but you can decide how many ‘segments’ you would like to make using the beads.
  • When you’re happy with the length of the abdomen, finish by cutting the ends of the wire and curling them in.
  • Thread another 10 cm length of the thinner wire and use to fasten the damselfly to the dowel rod.

Stick it in your garden and enjoy!

The ultimate wild camping experience

Guest blogger Andy Howard shares his tips on successful wild camping in Shetland.


Photo: Andy Howard

In my life as a professional wildlife photographer I spend most of my time in the great outdoors. To me my job is anything but a job, it’s a privilege, so to be able to conduct my ‘work’ in a place as beautiful as Shetland makes it extra special. It’s the abundance of wildlife that lures me back year-after-year. When I describe Shetland to people I tell them ‘there literally is wildlife everywhere. Where else in the world could you have a real possibility to see orca from a supermarket’s car park?


Photo: Andy Howard

By far the best way to get close to this abundance of wildlife is to wild camp. This is a great way to do be in the right place at the right time, and this is fundamental to a wildlife photographer as nature doesn’t work to a 9-to-5 timetable, the best way to capture really good images is to be out there with your camera either very early in the morning or late in the day.

Being relatively unpopulated as it is Shetland is an ideal location for wild camping. With miles upon miles of coastline and well grazed grassy slopes there are oodles of potential wild camp sites available. For those of you that have never wild camped before I’m going to share my ‘top 10’ hints and tips to making your experience a memorable one for all the right reasons.


Photo: Andy Howard

  1. Invest in a good tent; remember that the weather this far north can be ‘unpredictable’ to say the least.  A good small or medium dome or tunnel style tent is best, something that won’t catch the wind. A good tip is to upgrade the standard pegs for dedicated storm pegs.
  2. Make your sleeping quarters as comfortable as you can, we use a double inflatable mattress and goose down duvet and pillows. I didn’t say wild camping couldn’t be glamorous, did I?
  3. Choose your pitch well, be respectful of the locals and don’t pitch up close to someone’s home, also be aware of any potential ground nesting birds. As a rule of thumb if there are birds wheeling around and screaming at you, move on!
  4. Never pitch your tent in a hollow, next to a stream or on a low lying headland that is if you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of water lapping around you.
  5. In Shetland you’re never far away from a community centre, and at most of them you can pay a nominal fee to use their shower facilities. Visit Shetland Island Council’s website for details.
  6. Buy groceries often and in small amounts, this way you’ll cut down of wastage and you’ll be supporting local shops and in turn the local economy.
  7. All of the ferry terminals on Shetland have toilets and Wi-Fi, and some even have vending machines, that come in handy if you are a chocoholic like me and need a quick ‘fix’.
  8. Plan your menus so that you can cook meals using just one pan, as this saves time, fuel and washing up (never a bad thing!).
  9. Make things as comfortable as you can. Folding chairs and tables are a good idea, and it’s really up to you to decide the level of comfort you want.
  10. Relax and enjoy. There is no better way to enjoy the gifts of nature than to sit inside the open door of your tent whilst observing the antics of otters playing on a nearby beach or to drift off to sleep to the soundtrack of a Shetland summer’s evening, the haunting call of the red-throated diver or golden plover, the drumming of a snipe or the call of a whimbrel. Nights like this will live in your memory for ever.

Photo: Andy Howard

Last but by no means least, leave only footprints!

Any tips you’d like to add? Feel free to post your comments below.

The Exhilaration of Discovering Otters

I’m writing on my way to St Kilda to undertake sea cave surveys, but so far the expedition has been fraught with difficulty. Low pressure weather systems, one after another, have been making conditions too windy and the seas too rough.

Eventually after a week of surveying in Loch Laxford, on the north-west of mainland Scotland, a weather window opens and we make a dash for Kilda, only for the boat to suffer engine problems.

We turned round and headed to Uigg, on the north end of Skye to await an engineer. It is looking like St Kilda will elude us on this three week expedition.

Sitting in Uigg gives me time to collect my thoughts from the busy, sometimes punishing work schedule that these expeditions seem to create. My thoughts are always back in Shetland, with my wife Rachy and our new born child, Jack, and I miss them both dearly. By the time I will get back to Shetland, the busy seabird cliffs will have almost emptied, and otter cubs will start to appear along the shore.

I find autumn an exciting time of year, walking the shores and hearing the high pitched squeak of an otter cub, the finding of a “new” family, is always an exhilarating experience. In those first weeks of life the cubs are just a fluffy mass of brown fur, extremely buoyant, struggling to dive underwater.

Cuckoo wrasse, Shetland Isles.

The seas are at their warmest and large shoals of fish can be seen swimming over the kelp beds. Many of the fish species the otters like to feed on are at their highest abundance – a perfect time for the otters to have their cubs.

Autumn signals the start of the bird migration, the chance for a rarity or a first for Britain. Although I am no birder, it is always fascinating to see what turns up.

Sights such as large influxes of waxings, incredibly colourful, confiding birds, are a pleasure to see and fun to photograph.

Photos: Richard Shucksmith

Park Life with Liam Anderson

Trainee gardener Liam Anderson is one of two Shetland apprentices who were honoured in the Scotland-wide Lantra awards scheme recently. Genevieve White spoke to him at the Jubilee Flower Park in Lerwick where he is developing his horticultural skills.

On the wall of the staff kitchen at Lerwick’s Jubilee Flower Park, the front cover of a 1997 summer edition of Shetland Life shows the park in full bloom. Award winning apprentice gardener Liam Anderson smiles as he points it out. “I would’ve been about two years old then.”
Although Liam adds that he “probably wasn’t doing much gardening at the time,” it seems that his lifelong interest in gardening did not take long to flourish.

It was Liam’s late grandmother who nurtured his love of gardening and the outdoors. “I remember my granny teaching me all the Shetland names for wildflowers and finding it really interesting.”

His childhood home at Gonfirth, near Voe, also provided him with inspiration. “We had a lot of trees in the garden – a mixture of willow, whitebeam and fir. My dad was a fairly keen gardener, but I think that my granny did more gardening than anyone else.”

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Liam started to get serious about gardening as a teenager, when a neglected polytunnel provided him with a blank canvas on which to experiment. “I would’ve been about 14 or 15. The first couple of years my parents did quite a lot with the polytunnel, but by the third year they were too busy.

“I decided to get to work on it myself, and started growing lobelia, tomatoes, peppers and lettuces. It was amazing having that space all to myself.”

As a high school student, a biology lesson got him interested in propagation. Liam laughs as he remembers his teenage antics. “I think I drove my parents mad. I had plants propagating all over the place – in the kitchen, in the bathroom and in the utility room. I don’t think there was a spare bit of windowsill to be seen in the whole house. At that stage I was experimenting with some weird and wonderful plants too: I had a Venus fly trap which I enjoyed feeding – and some cacti.”
This love of gardening has never waned. In addition to his full time apprenticeship at the flower park, Liam tends his own garden in Yell, which he describes as being “quite different” from the relative order of the Jubilee Flower Park.

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“It’s a lot more exposed. There are no trees, and there are a lot of alpine plants. Actually, it’s a bit mad. I love growing things in strange containers – I’ve got plants growing out of a tea pot, a cement mixer drum which I found in a quarry and a rusty bread bin.”

Liam feels “privileged” to work in the Jubilee Park gardens. “I’m allowed to use my own initiative, and the work is both relaxing and fulfilling. I’m really interested in the art and design side of gardening, and every year I’ve been given a bed to do myself.”

Liam has certainly risen to the challenge, with last year’s Celtic knot design (a mixture of bedding plants and topiary) standing out as an example of his artistic talent.

The young gardener’s enthusiasm, talent and knowledge are very much in evidence in the popular blog he co-writes with Diane Inkster.

“Diane and I were encouraged to start a blog by SIC chief executive Mark Boden, who saw it as a way of encouraging more visitors to the garden. I really enjoy writing it. It has photographs of what’s going on in the garden, describes the work we’ve been doing, and it’s a space to answer the questions we’ve been asked by visitors.”

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Unsurprisingly, Liam likes visiting gardens in his spare time. He names Lindaal, near Tingwall, as his favourite Shetland garden. “I like the different levels in this garden – it just flows nicely. It feels hidden too – no one realises it’s there.” Outwith Shetland, he cites Kellie Castle Garden in Fife as a favourite. “I like old fashioned walled castle gardens, and this is a great example. There are fruit trees trained to the wall – it’s beautifully done.”

Asked whether he ever tires of the challenging Shetland climate, Liam admits that he sometimes gets frustrated.

“Yeah, there are times when I’ve spent time growing something, then a gale comes along and finishes it off. I think why am I doing this?”

With characteristic positivity, Liam sees these events as learning experiences and tries to work around them. “I’ve spent time researching which plants do well in windy places. Apparently, Argentina is one of the windiest places in the world, so I’m looking up things which grow well there”.

Our interview over, it’s time for Liam to get back to work. The flower park is bursting with signs of spring and the sky overhead is blue. It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way to spend the working week; it’s equally hard to envy this hard working young man his richly deserved success.

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Photos: Dave Donaldson

Aim to be Different

This month Richard Shucksmith gives some advice to budding wildlife photographers on how to make their images stand out from the crowd.

Today’s photographic world is a fast moving place, the days are gone of a small number of professional photographers producing imagery for commercial use.

The onslaught of the digital era has opened up photography to everyone, and with the world wide web and social media the “world” can be accessed from a click of a mouse. We are visual creatures, so naturally when we want to tell the world what we have done we do it using imagery.

This has created a world which is awash with pictures, there are 1.8 billion images shared every day across all the different social media platforms. Obviously many of these are phone snaps, however, among that mega number are many images where people have spent time thoughtfully capturing the world around them, making creative images.

Wildlife photography suffers from being awash with imagery from the amazing to the poor, causing images to lose their power and potential to make an impact. The number of images makes it difficult for any to stand out; it also becomes harder to create an image that has not been done before.  I also wonder about the longevity of an image, the way we use social media means we post, we “like” at a click of a button and move on to the next. Most images are lucky if they get more than 24 hour coverage before they are forgotten.

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So how do we make images that stand out from the rest in wildlife photography?  In my eyes there are two ways, being creative with a common subject or to photograph the unusual; the rarely seen.

Creative photography means experimenting and often the only constraining factor in our creativity is our own minds. Creative photography is fun and really comes into its own when you can be creative with lighting, this maybe in the mode of using flashes or natural light or a combination of both to show your subject in a different way.

Artificial light or flashes are the best for control as you can manipulate every aspect of the light hitting your subject – from how powerful the light is, to the colour of the light by using coloured filters over the flash. For example, you can use an orange filter to give the light warmth which replicates the warm glow of a sunset. You can change the angle of light to highlight different parts of the subject and so on.

Photographing the unusual or rarely seen can be very time consuming. You need to know the animal inside out and the only way to do this is to spend a lot of time in the field observing. That means often spending many hours without taking any images.

However, if you really have a passion for your subject and for being outside this is some of the most rewarding photography you can do. Often the end result is a set of images that have a strong impact and tell a story.

The key to successful wildlife photography is to be persistent, as many ideas can take time to evolve as you try different methods which need to be refined before you get the desired result. But most of all it has to be fun, that way you will spend more time and work harder at getting those unique images.

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Photos: Richard Shucksmith