Isle of Noss

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Isle of Noss
Norse nameNos
Meaning of nameOld Norse for "nose"
Isle of Noss is located in Shetland
Isle of Noss
Isle of Noss
Isle of Noss shown within the Shetland Islands
OS grid referenceHU544405
Coordinates60°09′N 1°01′W / 60.15°N 1.02°W / 60.15; -1.02
Physical geography
Island groupShetland
Area343 hectares (1.32 sq mi)
Area rank81 [1]
Highest elevation181 metres (594 ft)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaShetland Islands

The Isle of Noss[4] or Noss is a small, previously inhabited island in Shetland, Scotland. Noss is separated from the island of Bressay by the narrow Noss Sound. It has been run as a sheep farm since 1900,[3] and has been a national nature reserve since 1955.[5]

Noss is popular for wildlife tourism, and is linked to Bressay by a seasonal ferry service, run by the wildlife wardens using an inflatable boat. The ferry service brings around 1700 to the island each year, whilst total annual visitor numbers are thought to be around 5000 once those visiting on private and commercial boats are included.[6] Attractions on Noss include a visitor centre, the Pony Pund built to breed Shetland ponies, the Holm of Noss rock and the Noup cliff.


The name Noss comes from the Old Norse nǫs, meaning nose.[7] The fact that the name given was nǫs and not nǫsøy (nose island) - as is the way most other islands of a similar size are named in Shetland - suggests that the island was originally a peninsula attached to the neighbouring Bressay, and that at some point between the arrival of the Vikings and the 16th century the isthmus joining it was washed away by the sea.[8][9]


Noss had a population of 20 in 1851 but has had no permanent inhabitants since 1939. The main focus of settlement on Noss was around the low lying west side of the island at Gungstie (Old Norse: a landing place). Gungstie was built in the 1670s and is currently used by the seasonal wildlife wardens. Another settlement at Setter, on the south east of the island was inhabited until the 1870s and now lies derelict. Among the few families living on Noss were the Booth family headed by Joseph Booth (1765–1847). Genealogical records indicate that he was occupied as a farmer and fish curer. Records show that he was resident on Noss as early as 1834.[10]

Flora and fauna[edit]

Noss was designated a national nature reserve in 1955,[3] and is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).[11] The island is renowned for its seabird colonies and is one of the more accessible of the internationally important seabird colonies in the North Atlantic.[12] The sandstone cliffs of Noss have weathered into a series of horizontal ledges making ideal breeding grounds for gannets, puffins, guillemots, shags, black-legged kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars and great skuas. The species profile has changed considerably over the last 100 years, with dramatic increases in some species and population crashes in others. Four new species have begun to breed here (gannet, fulmar, great skua and storm petrel), however a further six species that were formerly recorded (lesser black-backed gull, common gull, tree sparrow, Eurasian whimbrel, peregrine falcon and white-tailed eagle) now longer breed at Noss.[13] In total 201 bird species have been recorded: in addition to the many seabirds several species of waders also breed here, including dunlin, snipe, oystercatcher and ringed plover. Other breeding bird species include skylark, meadow pipit, rock pipit and wheatear.[14]

Otters are also frequently seen around the island, and grey and common seals are seen in small numbers. In total ten species of cetacean have been seen in the seas off Noss, of which the most commonly recorded is the harbour porpoise.[14]

137 vascular plant species, 25 fungi & lichen species, 44 mosses & liverworts and 30 species of algae have been recorded at Noss. Two nationally scarce species of vascular plant, small adder's-tongue and northern knotgrass are found here, as is the nationally scarce lichen Lecanora straminea.[14]

Conservation designations[edit]

Noss National Nature Reserve
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
LocationShetland, Scotland
Area313 ha (770 acres)[15]
Governing bodyScottish Natural Heritage
Noss National Nature Reserve

The national nature reserve is classified as a Category IV protected area by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[16] Noss also holds other designations for its important wildlife being designated as a both a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).[17][18]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9
  3. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  4. ^ "Isle of Noss". Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  5. ^ The Story of Noss National Nature Reserve. p. 15.
  6. ^ The Story of Noss National Nature Reserve. p. 20.
  7. ^ Jakobsen 1897, p. 93.
  8. ^ Bressay & Noss,
  9. ^ The Story of Noss National Nature Reserve. p. 3.
  10. ^ Booth family on Shetland Island Genealogical Database
  11. ^ The Story of Noss National Nature Reserve. p. 21.
  12. ^ The Story of Noss National Nature Reserve. p. ii.
  13. ^ The Story of Noss National Nature Reserve. p.p. 4-9.
  14. ^ a b c The Story of Noss National Nature Reserve. p. 10.
  15. ^ "Site Details for Noss NNR". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  16. ^ a b "Noss in United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Protected Planet. Retrieved 2019-03-25.
  17. ^ "Noss SPA". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 2019-03-25.
  18. ^ "Noss SSSI". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 2019-03-25.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 60°8′47″N 1°1′10″W / 60.14639°N 1.01944°W / 60.14639; -1.01944