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Thousands of people across Britain are now recording nature’s calendar as part of the UK Phenology Network to see what effect climate change is having on our wildlife. The majority of plants and animals used in the national initiative, however, are not found in Shetland. Therefore the Shetland Biological Records Centre, with assistance from Scottish Natural Heritage, has produced a leaflet that IS relevant to people in Shetland so that we too, can participate in this important project.
You don't have to be an expert to take part, you can record as much or as little information as you are able. All you need to do is fill in the first and last date for the wildlife events detailed on the form. Even forms with just one or two entries will contribute to the project. Your observations can be made anywhere in Shetland.
As the ice receded following the last ice-age, some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, Shetland was left isolated without any link to the Scottish mainland. As a consequence man has been responsible for introducing all Shetland’s terrestrial mammals to the islands, either deliberately or accidentally - even the Otter is likely to have been introduced, perhaps by the Vikings who may have realised the value of the pelts for clothing.
Some of these introduced mammals may be having a serious impact on Shetland’s breeding birds. Feral cats, polecat-ferrets and hedgehogs are all known to eat ground-nesting birds or their chicks and eggs.
At present we do not have an accurate picture of the distribution or population of any of Shetland’s mammals. The Shetland Biological Records Centre needs your help to try and resolve this situation.
The stoat is believed to have been introduced into the islands in the 17th century. Although rarely seen, it is thought to be widely distributed throughout Mainland. Rabbits, young blue hares and ground-nesting birds, are likely to form the major part of its diet in Shetland. Be careful not to confuse stoats with their larger cousin, the polecat-ferret, a recent introduction into the islands, but one that presents a far greater threat to our native fauna. Stoats are much-smaller, less than one foot (30 cm) long. They have a longish tail, which always has a dark tip. In summer, the coat is two-tone, chestnut brown above, contrasting with yellowish-white from the chin to the belly. In winter many turn white, but they still retain the blackish tip to the tail.
The blue hare, also known as the mountain hare, was first introduced to the Kergord estate in 1907. Subsequent introductions have taken place on Ronas Hill and on the island of Vaila. Shetland, with its abundance of heather moorland, and comparative lack of predators, is well suited to this species. It has now spread to several areas on Mainland, although its precise distribution is poorly known and there is little information on numbers. The only similar species is the rabbit. Blue hares are best identified by their larger size, longer, black-tipped ears, longer legs and bounding gait.
The otter is perhaps Shetland’s most popular mammal, especially with visiting tourists. Globally, otters have suffered a dramatic decline throughout much of their range, although there have been recent signs of recovery in some areas. In Shetland the population is thought to number around 1,000 individuals, making it important in an international context. Shetland’s otters need a combination of soft peat (for excavating their holts), freshwater (for cleaning salt from their coat), and offshore kelp beds (for feeding). Although we know they are distributed right around the coast of Shetland, many areas have never been surveyed properly. Shetland’s otters have a shorter life expectancy (just 3 years) than their Mainland counterparts, which means that the population could fluctuate markedly over a relatively short period of time.