Shetland Coastal Character Assessment

Coastal inlet
The Coastal Character Assessment (CCA) of the Shetland Islands was prepared by the NAFC Marine Centre UHI with guidance from NatureScot as part of ongoing development of the Shetland Islands Regional Marine Plan (SIRMP).

The aim of the study was to gather information about the various coastal character types found around Shetland, the experiences the coast currently offers to local people and visitors, and any sensitivity to development, both inland and out to sea.

The objectives of the study were to:

  • Identify and map different coastal character types at a local level.
  • Describe the key features and character of each area which relates to the experience of the place.
  • Identify any areas around the coast sensitive to onshore and/or offshore development.
  • Relate the study to other published documents such as the Shetland Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) and the Shetland Local Development Plan (LDP).

A small pilot study was conducted from August to December 2014 considering three areas; Bressay Sound, Sullom Voe and Yell Sound to get the right level of detail before proceeding with the whole of Shetland. These areas were chosen due to their current high levels of activity and potential for future development. From January 2015 to May 2016, the same methods used in the pilot study were applied across the whole of Shetland creating 43 Coastal Character Areas (CCa). Each CCa was considered as a whole entity and divided into coastal character types (CCT) and features (CCF).

Shetland’s Coastal Character

Shetland’s seascape has been formed over millions of years and has created a diverse and unique environment which is valued highly by residents and visitors to the islands. It is an intrinsic part of island life economically and culturally.

The coasts of Shetland can be split broadly into two categories; inner and outer coast. Two seascape character types have been mapped at a regional level by SNH, which is low rocky island coasts and remote high cliffs. At a local level fourteen coastal character types (CCT) have been identified around the Shetland coastline with a further four sub types. There are also numerous features such as stacks and tombolos which add to Shetland’s coastal character.

Below is a summary of each CCT:

  • Developed Voes and Firths - Voes and Firths which have development at the head of the voe and/ or numerous aquaculture sites on the water.
  • Undeveloped Voes and Firths - Voes and Firths with sparse or no onshore development or settlements and no or limited aquaculture development on the water.
  • Voe and Firth Network - A group of three or more voes and firths in close proximity usually separated by a narrow headland.
  • Developed Island Sound - Stretch of water between two islands or an island and the mainland which has an onshore settlement and/ or aquaculture development.
  • Undeveloped Island Sound - Stretch of water between two island or an island and the mainland which has sparse or no onshore development and no or limited aquaculture development.
  • Exposed coast: Low Rocky Shore - A stretch of coastline that is exposed to the severe storms Shetland is subjected to. Common occurrence to find some large rocks thrown far inland.
  • Large Harbour - A sheltered area of water with pier infrastructure used commercially and recreationally.
  • Small Harbour - Lower level of activity compared to large harbours and cannot accommodate larger vessels. Usually has some human intervention in creating a sheltered area of water such as rock armour.
  • Exposed High Cliffs - Exposed to extreme weather which leads to various erosional features such as caves, stacks and geos. There is usually a panoramic view from the top and the cliff faces often offer nesting spots for seabirds.
  • Exposed Coast: Steep Banks - Similar to the high rock cliffs CCT, steep banks have a more gradual slope into the sea and are often vegetated with sheep managing to graze on them.
  • Exposed Coast: Low Banks - Banks derived from either exposed rock or bare earth/ peat which are no more than 10m high with rocky shore usually found at the base.
  • Large Bay - a large sweeping coastline and often has a sandy beach.
  • Ness and Wick Network - the network comprises of an indented coastline with sheltered wicks (bays) protected and separated by nesses (headlands) on each side. There is often settlement around the wicks.
  • Offshore Coastal Islands - Small uninhabited islands found throughout Shetland. Many were inhabited but were abandoned due to a lack of viability. Usually, low lying with low rocky shore and some used for grazing sheep through the summer.

Sub types

  • Mini Voes and Firths – similar to a developed or undeveloped voe or firth, however, usually does not have steep sides and is not very long.
  • Marina - Purposely designed harbour to provide mooring facilities, usually floating pontoons, for small boats and yachts.
  • Small Bay - Similar to a large bay but on a smaller scale. Can be important tourist hotspots.
  • Tidal Island - Similar to the Offshore Island CCT but are accessible via a sand or shingle tombolo. Some are only accessible during low tide.

Cultural and social ties to the coast in Shetland have also been considered with information on the cultural heritage that has been affected by the close proximity of the sea such as fair isle knitting and the unique Shetland fiddle playing style. Other considerations have been the recreational uses of the coastline with information gathered through questionnaires on where people visit the most and where they value the coast.

September 2017 Assessment

  1. Introduction pages 1-55 (pdf)
  2. East Mainland Character Areas pages 56-88 (pdf)
  3. Remote Islands Character Areas pages 89-109 (pdf)
  4. North Isles Character Areas pages 110-159 (pdf)
  5. North Mainland Character Areas pages 160-194 (pdf)
  6. South Mainland Character Areas pages 195-245 (pdf)
  7. West Mainland Character Areas pages 246-282 (pdf)
  8. Appendices & Glossary pages 282-297 (pdf)

Please contact us if you have any questions.