‘Na­ture pre­scrip­tions’ for win­ter in­clude search­ing for white-winged gulls.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Shetland - SALLY HUBAND is a na­ture writer and 2017 re­cip­i­ent of a Scot­tish Book Trust ‘New Writ­ers Award’ for nar­ra­tive non-fic­tion: raingeese­and­selkies.blogspot.com

Re­becca Na­son, nat­u­ral­ist and wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher, ex­plains: “It’s re­ally spe­cial to watch this species in Shet­land, a place where they are not per­se­cuted as they are else­where in Scot­land. And be­cause we don’t get much snow, they stand out like bea­cons in the land­scape, so they are not too hard to find. With a bit of stealthy field­work, you can get re­ally close to them.”

Nat­u­ral tonic

Moun­tain hares live in the hills above my house, but I need to visit more ex­posed stretches of coast to find a favourite over­win­ter­ing species: the pur­ple sand­piper. He­len Mon­crieff, of the RSPB, is also an ad­mirer of these hardy shore­birds. “They look like they should be clumsy, but they are very ag­ile,” she says. “There is some­thing about see­ing them on the rocks with the turn­stones, with the white of a gale-driven sea be­hind them.”

I am lucky to spend much of my time outdoors – beach­comb­ing, ot­ter spot­ting and look­ing for pur­ple sand­pipers – and per­haps this helps me to avoid Sea­sonal Af­fec­tive Dis­or­der, a type of de­pres­sion that is thought to be caused by re­duced ex­po­sure to sun­light. In a pi­o­neer­ing project, the RSPB in Shet­land worked closely with NHS Shet­land to de­velop ‘na­ture pre­scrip­tions’, the aim of which is to im­prove men­tal and phys­i­cal health. GPs in Shet­land can now pro­vide pa­tients with a leaflet and cal­en­dar that con­tain care­fully thought out, and Shet­land-spe­cific, ways to strengthen our con­nec­tions to na­ture.

‘Pre­scrip­tions’ for the win­ter months in­clude search­ing for white-winged gulls, count­ing whooper swans at the RSPB’s Loch of Spig­gie Na­ture Re­serve, and watch­ing ravens’ ae­rial courtship dis­plays. I will do all of these things as well as join­ing Bry­don Thoma­son on a Bluemull Sound ferry, in the hope of find­ing a king ei­der in a vast raft of com­mon ei­der, and to see the won­der­ful flocks of long-tailed ducks. A Shet­land sum­mer can seem too short to fit in all the wildlife that can be seen here. I never thought, when I moved to these is­lands, that I would feel the same way about win­ter, too.

Above: the cliffs of Noss are over a kilo­me­tre long and are home to thou­sands of se­abirds in sum­mer.

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