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Follow the leader - gannets at Hermaness

Photo: Leejiah Dorward

Gannets of the far North

Pete Wilton

A trip to the northernmost tip of the British Isles resulted in an unusual photo opportunity.

Leejiah Dorward, an Oxford University DPhil student studying human-wildlife conflict at the Environmental Research DTP, visited the Hermaness Nature Reserve whose cliffs are home to around 20,000 pairs of puffins, 12,000 pairs of Northern Gannets, as well as fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, shags, and gulls.

It was there that Leejiah took the photo above that was recently highly commended in the British Ecological Society photo competition.

He tells me: 'While aware that Hermaness was an important breeding site for a number of bird species, we were not prepared for the full assault on our senses that awaited us as we arrived at the cliff tops. Looking down over the thousands of birds squabbling on the cliffs or soaring over a rough sea 170 metres below. The strong updrafts these birds were riding also bringing with it the acrid stench of guano that stains much of these cliffs white.'

Along with a couple of friends Leejiah perched on the grass above the cliffs and was quickly mesmerised by the sheer numbers of birds flying above, below and all around:

'The effort I had expended cycling up Shetland's hilly roads with my heavy camera gear was soon rewarded with gannets, fulmars and skuas all performing wonderfully for the camera. Unfortunately time was against us as we had many more miles to cycle that day before reaching our beds for the night so we had to tear ourselves away from the cliffs and head back to the road, however it was a real joy and pleasure to be able to watch and photograph these majestic birds.'