Fetlar

The Garden of Shetland

Strolling around the varied landscapes of this beautiful island, visitors can trace human settlements from the Stone Age, through the Picts and the Norse, to the 19th century when the laird evicted whole townships of people to make room for sheep. The Clearances left gloomy ruins and empty lands where hundreds of people once scraped a living. But this man-made wilderness contains a rich variety of ancient sites, exquisite flowers and perfect habitat for ground nesting birds.

Although there are now fewer than 100 inhabitants, the social life of the island is varied and visitors are always welcome at local gatherings.

The name Fetlar means 'the island of the fat land' in Old Norse and its rich grazings and fertile soils were a prime attraction even before the Vikings colonised it 1,200 years ago. Local tradition says Gruting in Fetlar was the site of the first Norse landing in Shetland (although Haroldswick in Unst may dispute this!) What is certain is that Fetlar has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years.

The Fetlar Interpretive Centre and museum at the Beach of Houbie is an essential part of a visit to the island, open daily from May to the end of September. Here visitors can enjoy informative displays and multi-media presentations on the birds and other wildlife, wild flowers and the island's geology, archaeology and history. Visitors can browse albums of old photographs, listen to recordings of local history, folklore and music, and see film of the island dating back to the 1930s. Information is also available in French, German and Italian. The centre includes displays on Brough Lodge and Leagarth House.  There is also a cafe in Fetlar (based in the hall) which is open daily (11am-4pm Mon-Sat & 12pm-4pm Sun) and serves soups and light meals as well as a range of snacks and tasty homebakes, with vegetarian options available.

Funzie's Fabulous Phalaropes

Fetlar is the summer home of one of Britain's rarest breeding birds, the Red Necked Phalarope, a remarkably tame, brightly-coloured bird which in June and July can be seen at very close quarters from the RSPB hide at the Mires of Funzie (pronounced 'Finnie') and as they feed along the shores of the Loch of Funzie.

For almost 20 years the RSPB, local crofters, landowners and Scottish Natural Heritage have co-operated in a successful programme to maintain and improve the breeding grounds of this delightful little bird. As a result, although Red Necked Phalaropes have drastically declined throughout Britain and Ireland, the Fetlar population is recovering, with 30-40 pairs (90% of the UK population) breeding on the island.

...And Other Rarities

About 80 pairs of Whimbrel (15% of the UK breeding population) also nest in Fetlar. Whimbrels are very similar to their larger cousins, the Curlews, but have a pale stripe through the centre of the crown and a characteristic and evocative call. A good place to see them is along the road to the airstrip. Fetlar was once home to Britain's only pair of breeding Snowy Owls. Recorded in 1967 by the late Bobby Tulloch, they bred successfully each year until 1975.

Other Fetlar bird life includes Red-Throated Diver, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Eider Duck, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Arctic Tern and Oystercatchers. Storm Petrels and Manx Shearwaters are usually around the Wick of Tresta in the late summer evenings and early mornings, while Fulmars, Black Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Shags and Puffins can be seen all around the coast.

Nowhere in Shetland are the summer wildflowers more luxuriant than in the rich soils of Fetlar. From April to August a succession of blooms brightens the landscape. The rarer varieties include the Frog Orchid, Creeping Willow, Water Aven, Knotted Pearlwort and Lesser Twayblade.

Getting There

You can get to Fetlar from both Unst and Yell using a local car ferry.  View travel information here.  

The ferries to Fetlar are less frequent than the Yell and Unst services however it is still possible to make a day trip to Fetlar.  If you have more time, there are accommodation options on Fetlar and it would be worth spending more time here to walk around the island and explore the fascinating flora and fauna.

What Next?

On This Site

  • Read more about Shetland's flora
  • Learn more about bird watching in Shetland
  • Be sure to visit the island of Unst when exploring the North Isles

From Other Sites

  • Visit the Fetlar Interpretive Centre's website
  • Download a Shetland Heritage leaflet about Fetlar (.pdf)
  • See the Fetlar camping site website
  • Check out the Fetlar Aerial Photography website for videos and pictures from this beautiful island 
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