Wild Shetland: through the seasons

By Brydon Thomason

Shetland Times, 2023

Hbk, 274pp; 180 colour photographs

ISBN 978-1-910997-56-7; £36.99

There are many reasons to visit Shetland, but the islands’ wildlife has long been a major draw for travellers, never mind those of us who call it home. This new, large-format book is a photographic celebration of that extraordinary wildlife. The book is arranged according to season, starting with spring – which in most years shows significant overlap with the end of winter; but it perhaps isn’t surprising that summer, and the maelstrom of the breeding season, dominates the page count. At the same time, it is pleasing that our long winter isn’t relegated to a handful of icy landscapes and storm-lashed coastlines. Light is in short supply in winter at 60° north but its quality can be remarkable, and images of hardy resident creatures and the few winter visitors can be especially memorable. 

The book illustrates around 80 species and the reader is treated to some splendid landscapes (and seascapes) as well. There are a handful of invertebrates and some of Shetland’s special plants but birds and mammals dominate the pages. The balance of the species covered was one of the things I liked most about the book – the birds and other animals that breed and/or winter in the archipelago are the stars of the show and these are dealt with in some depth. For many birders, Shetland is synonymous with rare migrants, and the book contains a few of those, too – and rightly so given that Shetland is now the rarity capital of Britain. Rarities are not the point of this book, however. Rather, its purpose is to showcase the wildlife that you can see on a pretty much daily basis when you spend time in these islands. For me, the balance of the book is just right.

The material is essentially all down to one man, local naturalist Brydon Thomason. The photographs – around 180 of them, most of them reproduced at more or less full-page size – are testimony to his talent with a camera but also of two other things: long hours in the field, often in difficult conditions, and, more importantly, a genuine understanding of the subject matter. Whether it’s tracking a foraging Otter Lutra lutra or photographing a sensitive breeding bird, his awareness of the animal’s behaviour is reflected in some really brilliant images. His studies of Red-throated Divers Gavia stellata, Red-necked Phalaropes Phalaropus lobatus and perhaps especially Merlins Falco columbarius on their breeding grounds are particular favourites of mine… but, then again, so too are the moorland waders, the Otters and of course the various seabirds. The trio of Bonxies Stercorarius skua dismembering a Puffin Fratercula arctica in mid-air is an especially gripping image.

The accompanying text is mainly in the format of extended picture captions. In many cases, these contain nuggets of information derived from the research of other workers on the species concerned, which are mostly well chosen and up to date. There are plenty of Shetland names, as well as a smattering of poetry and snippets of dialect writing from a variety of Shetland authors. I am sure that Brydon, who was born and bred in Shetland, has made good choices with these, although I am less sure that I am qualified to judge. 

What I do feel confident about is recommending this book. If you’re interested in Shetland’s wildlife, this book will not disappoint.

Roger Riddington

Issue 2
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