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Three billion years in the making…

Packed with an incredible geology spanning almost 3 billion years, Shetland is more geologically diverse than any similar sized area in Europe.  Where else can you walk on ancient oceanic crust, explore an extinct volcano and stroll across shifting sands in the space of a day?

This archipelago of over one hundred islands contains rocks of every era from Precambrian to Carboniferous and can boast a number of outstanding features:

  • The Northmavine Igneous Complex contains the best section through the flank of a volcano in the British Isles.
  • The St Ninian’s Isle tombolo is the largest active sand tombolo in Britain and one of the finest in Europe.
  • The Shetland Ophiolite has been described as the most compact, best exposed, complete and accessible in the world.

Shetland’s rocks tell an amazing story about how the world has formed and changed. This story of oceans opening and closing, mountains forming and eroding, tropical seas, volcanoes, deserts, ice ages and ancient rivers is being brought to life by Geopark Shetland.

The Geopark has developed several initiatives to promote Shetland’s impressive geology, including geology themed events, resources for schools and imaginative exhibits.  They have also installed interpretive panels at key geological locations and published self-guide trails, such as ‘Shetland’s Volcano’, which explores one of the highest energy coastlines in the world.

Natural and cultural heritage

Shetland’s geology and geographical location have influenced every aspect of life in the isles from the landscape and biodiversity to the settlement patterns and economy.  In fact, such is its influence that many of Shetland’s place names reflect the islands geology, both on land and at sea.

Shetland is known across the world for its bird life, and as being one of the best places in Europe to see otters and cetaceans.  The islands are also home to 23 unique species of plant, two island races of wren and a subspecies of bumblebee.  This biodiversity has been recognised by the establishment of numerous internationally and nationally designated conservation sites, including 12 Special Protection Areas, 12 Special Areas of Conservation and a European Diploma site.

The islands also contain some of the best preserved archaeological remains in Europe. The Iron Age Mousa Broch has dominated its landscape for 2000 years, while the islandof Unst contains the highest density of Viking longhouses in the world.  Rocks were essential for early settlers. Later, soapstone provided the Norse occupants with a major commodity for trade and since 1970 Shetland has played a key role in the global oil industry.  Now Geopark Shetland is utilising the islands’ geological resources for another trade – tourism.

Visitor activities

Today Shetland is a vibrant cultural hub, which is becoming a strong player in the modern tourist market.  Visitors can expect a warm welcome, a wide range of quality accommodation and a number of cafes and restaurants serving local produce.  Begin by exploring the Museum and Archives in Lerwick, where displays tell Shetland’s story from its geological beginnings to the present day.  From here travel the islands and discover a network of high quality visitor attractions and activities covering all aspects of Shetland’s heritage and culture, including the trails, exhibits and events developed by Geopark Shetland

A visit to Geopark Shetland is not just a journey through billions of years of fascinating geological heritage, it is a place to unwind and enjoy a different way of life.  Along the way you will see some of the most stunning scenery in Europe, experience island hospitality, and discover how geology has made Shetland what it is today


Geopark Shetland became the first complete island group to join the European and Global Geoparks Networks in September 2009.  The Geopark is managed by Shetland Amenity Trust, supported by the multi-agency Geopark Shetland Working Group. These organisations work closely with local communities to develop Geopark initiatives, fostering community ownership and support.

Geopark Shetland
Shetland Amenity Trust

Tel: +44 (0)1595 694688
Fax: +44 (0)1595 693956


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