The Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland are famous for their wildlife including a wide range of seabirds and mammals. It is estimated that the seal population numbers approximately 6000 Common Seals and 3500 Grey Seals.
The Islands (and especially the Isle of Noss) have an estimated 20000 Gannets. The Gannet is a large white bird with distinctive yellow head and a wing span of more than 6 feet. It feeds by diving into the sea for fish and can dive from a height of 90+ feet, entering the water at a speed of more than 60 mph. A Gannet can live to the age of 35 years.
The Shetland Islands are nearer to the Arctic Circle than they are to London. Indeed, the distance between Lerwick, the capital of the islands, and London is approximately the same as that between London and Milan. Norway is just over 220 miles east; London is 650 miles south. Not surprisingly the culture and language of the Islands display strong Norse influences.
No point on the Islands is more than three miles from the sea and inevitably Shetlanders have been historically associated with the sea and fishing. It is recorded that the Islands contributed 3000 men to the British cause at Trafalgar. Even their smallest boats bear evidence of Nordic design features.
Agriculture has also been an essential component of the economy. Wool has provided a natural resource for the knitting industry.
But for some the name Shetland will forever be associated with the Shetland pony. The existence on the Islands of these small horses – adapted to the harsh conditions of the Islands and measuring in height between 26-46 inches – can be traced back to the Bronze Age. For its size the Shetland pony is immensely strong and eventually became important to the coal mining industry in many parts of the world. Used for hauling trucks from the coal face, some of these horses never saw the light of day.