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Orkney supports nationally and internationally important populations of wildlife, some of which are extremely rare and declining across the rest of the British Isles.

Located 10 miles north of mainland Scotland, Orkney is an archipelago of 70 islands, 20 of which are inhabited. Like many islands, Orkney does not have mammals such as foxes, badgers, weasels and, until recently, stoats. This has allowed many species of ground-nesting birds and the Orkney vole, a distinct sub-species found nowhere else in the world, to thrive.

Orkney supports internationally important breeding populations of curlews.

Wildlife watching

Hen harriers and short-eared owls are often seen from the roads, while iconic species such as otters, puffins and white-tailed eagles delight visitors. Surrounded by sea, dolphins, seals and whales are also all frequently seen. In spring, red-throated divers dance displays on moorland lochans, the ancient landscape awakens with the calls of curlews, oystercatchers, redshanks and lapwings and the archipelago’s rugged cliffs come alive with the raucous chatter and pungent smell of thousands of breeding seabirds.

The Orkney vole is found nowhere else in the world!

Orkney supports nearly 20% of the UK's breeding hen harriers, despite just 0.4% of its land area.

Orkney's importance for its natural heritage is recognised through nationally and internationally designated protected sites which cover around 30% of the islands’ land area. There are also many wild patches remaining within the farmed landscape which help support an abundance of wildlife.

The islands are an important home for curlews, lapwings, redshanks, oystercatchers, snipe and corncrakes, along with Arctic terns, hen harriers and red-throated divers, which all nest on the ground.

Last May, our wildlife cam produced 20 days of live footage monitoring an oystercatcher nest at The Loons, an RSPB reserve in Orkney. Here is the moment that the chicks made their first foray beyond the nest. The full video is still available on YouTube.

Hit play to see the moment that the chicks emerged last year, and watch this space as we head into spring 2023…

Local wildlife watching resources

For visitors to Orkney, there are a range of great resources which describe our wonderful local wildlife and give hints and tips of when and where to go and what to look for:

For details of the 12 nature reserves that RSPB Scotland manage in Orkney visit RSPB Orkney. Please also check the RSPB website for tools to help bird identification.

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