#30DaysWild – Day 21 Ultimate Shetland: Hermaness Heaven!

A bright day dawned and we headed north to Hermaness.

Hermaness is a mecca for seabirds, with over 100 000 breeding pairs of 15 different species, making up this internationally important seabird assemblage. The colonies of breeding great skua, gannet and puffin are also of international importance and numbers of guillemot, fulmar and shag at Hermaness all exceed 1% of the British population. The gannetry with around 6% of the breeding North Atlantic population, is the sixth largest British colony. This spectacular site is a must if you ever visit Shetland as it is a spectacle that you won’t forget!

We headed up from the car park, pausing on the way to look at the beautiful sundew that pepper the path with their fiery glow…

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A broadwalk takes you up, through the moor and breeding bonxies, toward the cliffs. These bonxies, with around 6% of the breeding North Atlantic population, is the sixth largest British colony.

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Nothing really prepares you for the views, as you reach the end of the broad walk and reach the cliffs….

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Puffins burrows can be seen along the top edges and we could hear the young inside, calling and waiting for their next meal!

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The main gannetry is just a short walk and no photos will ever be able to do this amazing spectacle justice. The cliffs, white with guano, are a mass of gannets, rising, falling soaring, calling and tending nests. Everywhere you look, the skies are full… it is incredible…

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The panoramic views take your breath away..

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We spent time sitting on the edge of the cliffs absorbing the atmosphere in a location where there is almost too much to see. From marvelling at the gannet’s acrobatic ability to soar effortlessly and negotiate the terrain to land on the tiniest space to watching the first new arrivals on the precarious ledges, there is SO much to watch.

At one point, a puffin emerged from a burrow just beneath our feet and proceeded to collect nesting material just a few metres from us, unperturbed by the clicking of camera shutters and the numerous fascinated observers!

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Having got our ‘fix’ of gannets, we headed to a very contrasting reserve; that of Keen of Hamar. This landscape is reminiscent of a lunar landscape and appears, at first, barren and lifeless. Nestling in its stony ground, however, are some of the rarest plants in Britain.  The soil here is amongst the oldest and poorest in Britain and the scene probably resembles what much of Northern Europe looked like as the ice retreated some 10,000 years ago.

IMG_7342 IMG_7338We worked our way across this landscape, marvelling at the many plants that make their home here. Most exciting is the tiny Edmondston’s chickweed (also known as Shetland mouse-ear), which is endemic to Unst, growing only on the Keen of Hamar and a short distance to the north west on the slopes of Nikkavord.

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Also here, we found St John’s Wort..

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Wild thyme…

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and numerous stunning Spotted Heath orchids…

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It was a fascinating place and a very special habitat and landscape that is now protected as a SSSI site.

We headed up to our hotel on Unst and settled in, reflecting on another wildlife-packed day and looking forward to our next…