Animals Animals

Animals in Orkney

Orkney is a wonderful place to spot wildlife and is home to some very rare species of animals.

Among them is the Orkney vole (Microtus orcadensis) which is a unique sub species of the European vole, not found in mainland Britain. These are larger than the field and bank voles found in the rest of the country. You can spot the voles’ runs on coastal grassland and might be lucky enough to see one. Short-eared owls and hen harriers hunt them for food. This small rodent even has distinct sub species between different Orkney islands with varying head sizes. Foxes and deer, which were brought to Orkney by ancient people for hunting, and badger are now extinct in Orkney.

Brown hare are common and can often be seen running across farmland. Mountain hare live in the hills and moors of Hoy and are brown in summer and white in winter. They were reintroduced in the 18th century. Rabbits also abound. One of Britain’s most elusive animals, the Eurasian otter, is alive and well in Orkney. But despite an otter crossing road sign in Kirkwall near the Peedie Sea, you need plenty of patience to sit still to see one of these shy creatures near sheltered coasts, rock pools and lochs. Look for their droppings or spaints or the marks of webbed feet and make your search at dawn or dusk. Other mammals include long-tailed fieldmice, pygmy shrews and hedgehogs.

Orkney is also home to many species of insects including butterflies, moths and the dreaded midges and is one of the last habitats of the endangered great yellow bumblebee.

Important birds on the reserves include the hen harrier, short-eared owl, kestrel, rare corncrake, snipe, oyster-catcher, curlew, red-throated diver, lapwing and many species of wild duck and geese.

Orkney has 36 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 13 Special Protection Areas which are important areas for wildlife protected by Scottish Natural Heritage and 13 reserves managed by the RSPB. Wildlife projects are also managed by many other organisations in Orkney including the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, Orkney Field Club and Orkney Islands Council.