Noss from Bressay Photo: Afra Skene

Rising from sandy beaches to 181m high cliffs Noss’ distinctive shape led Viking settlers to give the island its name, which comes from the old Norse word for ‘nose’. Old red sandstone cliffs, grassland and moorland provide a home for thirteen species of seabird including the world’s fifth largest great skua (bonxie) colony and the UK’s seventh largest gannet colony. Gannet nests cover the cliffs of the Noup, Noss’ highest point, creating an impressive sight affectionately nicknamed the ‘seabird skyscrapers’. The island also plays host to Arctic skuas, guillemots, razorbills, Arctic terns, fulmars, kittiwakes and, the iconic puffin.

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Puffin on Noss Photo: Afra Skene

Due to the nationally and internationally importance of Noss’ seabird colonies the island has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and as a National Nature Reserve (NNR). The RSPB appointed the first Noss warden, or ‘watcher’ as they were called then, in 1907. Today the island is managed as a nature reserve by Scottish Natural Heritage who employ two seasonal wardens to monitor and protect the seabirds as well as providing a ferry service for visitors. As a result of the long history of wildlife conservation on Noss we have seabird population data going back decades with regular monitoring taking place from the 1970s and monitoring of productivity (breeding success) from the 1980s. This is particularly important due to the difficulty of monitoring marine species: seabirds can be a useful indicator of the health of our oceans.

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Gannet colony on Noss Photo: Tara Proud

Now uninhabited by anyone but the seasonal wardens evidence suggests that Noss was inhabited as early as Neolithic times. For a long time, large numbers of seabird eggs were harvested from Noss, though now legislation prevents this. Some human activities were of benefit to seabirds however; for example a Shetland pony stud was established on the island in the late 19th century which led to a dry-stone cliff dyke (wall) being built around the higher part of the island and this dyke is now home to breeding storm petrels and tiny Shetland wrens!

Today Noss is still managed as part of a larger farm on Bressay and is grazed by a flock of the native Shetland breed of sheep, the numbers of which are controlled to keep the vegetation at a suitable height for the breeding birds. The Noss wardens run a small inflatable ferry between Noss and nearby Bressay to allow visitors to enjoy Noss and its wildlife; they also provide information to visitors including how to minimise disturbance to Noss’ protected species. Noss provides us with a good example of how farming, conservation and visitors can all work together to utilise and protect an island.

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Fulmar breeding on Noss Photo: Afra Skene

One of the reasons that Noss is important as a seabird island is the lack of mammalian predators on the island. The only mammals on Noss are rabbits, which were introduced in the past as a source of food, otters and of course, sheep. There have been brown rats and feral cats on Noss in the past but the last cat was removed in 1987 and rats reportedly died out in the late 19th century. Given that Noss is only 150m from the coast of Bressay, which has both rats and mice, it is remarkable that the island has managed to stay rodent-free and it is very important for the breeding seabirds that it remains so. The SNH wardens and reserve manager are acutely aware of the danger of non-native species and the Biosecurity for LIFE project is working with them to draw up and implement a biosecurity plan for Noss.

For more information on Noss:



April 2020

Skokholm, Skomer and Middleholm

Together these islands are estimated to hold a remarkable 67% of the world population of breeding Manx shearwater. These birds are diurnal but will only come ashore or go out to sea under the cover of darkness and nest underground so you’re unlikely to see them when you visit the islands unless you stay overnight. You will see that the ground is covered in burrows and is therefore extremely fragile so take care to stay on the paths when you visit. Skokholm is also home to the fourth largest storm petrel colony in the UK, holding 8% of the UK breeding population. These birds’ nest in crevices in stone walls or quarries and are also nocturnal when on land to avoid predation. The islands most famous resident however is the puffin, these birds nest underground but come out in the day so you are likely to see rather a lot of them if you visit between April and July. All these ground-nesting species are particularly susceptible to invasive non-native mammalian predators, they would not survive if rats, mink or stoats arrived on the islands.

March 2020


Grassholm is one of those islands that assaults your senses upon approach with both the smell, noise and sight of over 36,000 pairs of gannets. On a round island boat trip you’ll see them on their nests or flying overhead like aeroplanes before folding their wings back and diving at speed to catch their prey in the surrounding waters. 6.8% of the world population of Northern gannets breed on this lump of rock just 10 hectares in size. In fact, the majority of the island is now white in colour due to the animals and their guano, with only a relatively small strip of grass remaining where they are yet to colonise. Grassholm is the third largest gannetry in the UK after the Bass Rock and St Kilda – two other sites we’re also working on.

March 2020

The Farne Islands

Lying only a mile off the Northumberland Coast, the Farne Islands archipelago hosts one of England’s most impressive seabird colonies, managed by the National Trust. Depending of the state of the tide, the Farnes boast between 15 and 28 islands, the largest being just 16 acres in size. Onto these small isles, an assemblage of over 160,000 seabirds crowd together each summer to breed.

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Contact Us

If you’d like more information or would like to report a sighting of an invasive predator please contact us using the form below: