Location: Off the north coast of Scotland.
Grid Reference: HP6409
Shetland is a group of more than a hundred islands, just 15 of them inhabited, at the northernmost point of Britain.
The largest island, known simply as "Mainland", has an area of 967 km2, making it the third-largest Scottish island and the fifth-largest of the British Isles. The islands have an oceanic climate, a complex geology, a rugged coastline and many low, rolling hills. They are unique, boasting a range of habitats, from moorland to serpentine rocks. The vegetation is largely blanket bog dominated by heather, cotton grass, dwarf shrubs such as crowberry and bilberry and sphagnum moss. The numerous freshwater lochs, pools and marshes also contain a variety of aquatic plants. The lower lying land consists of pasture, grasslands and coastal heath.
Shetland is home to many different plant habitats, some of which provide wonderful floristic displays, ranging from cliffs and meadows to arctic-alpine tundra.
Plants adapted to extreme saltiness, dryness, high winds and lack of nutrients cling to shifting sands and shingle banks on the lower shores. They include sea rocket, silverweed, sea sandwort, sea mayweed, goosegrass and the rare oysterplant.
A little further inland, on the sandy links above the beaches, there's a striking display of summer flowers, dominated by tufted vetch, bird's-foot trefoil and yarrow. Other flowers include daisy, buttercup, silverweed, selfheal, eyebright, field and autumn gentian. Along the closely-grazed turf of the clifftops sea pink and the tiny blue flowers of spring squill are prominent from late May through to early July. On ungrazed sections they're joined by sea plantain, buck's-horn plantain and, on the more sheltered cliffs, by roseroot, sea campion, red campion, scurvy grass, bird's-boot trefoil, sheep's-bit and thyme. The succulent leaves of roseroot which conserve fresh water enable it to cope with the poor conditions. Spring squill, sea pink and sea plantain do the same, while Scots lovage, another plant frequent on inaccessible cliffs, adapts to the short growing season in Shetland by maximising growth early in the year.
On Shetland's highest summit, Ronas Hill, conditions can be extreme. Vegetation is sparse, but about 15 arctic-alpine species grow on the hill, including alpine lady's mantle and moss campion. The eastern hills of Unst are not as high, but on the Keen of Hamar a similar tundra-like habitat of stony soils has developed where grow the only examples in the world of the beautiful little chickweed, Shetland mouse-ear. Traditional crofting created botanically diverse habitats. Hayfields (no longer common in Shetland) and carefully managed grazing encourage gentians and orchids. Drier meadows support many grasses, including sweet vernal grass, and amongst them, meadow buttercup, yellow rattle, devil's-bit scabious and autumn hawkbit dominate, accompanied by red and white clover, common mouse ear and eyebrights. Sedges, marsh cinquefoil, ragged-robin and lady's smock favour wet meadows while tall herbs such as meadowsweet and angelica do better in areas where there's little or no grazing. Marsh marigold, monkey flower and yellow flag are to be found in burns and ditches.