For a small island, Burray has a rich and diverse variety of plants, animals and birds.



In spring and summer,the roadside verges are awash with colour as a variety of plants thrive and bloom.


Silverleaf, Orchids and Wild Poppies and many other plants grow along the roadsides.

Although wild flowers grow in profusion all over Burray, it is probably on the sand and dunes at No 4 Barrier beach and at Bu sands that the flora really excels itself.

The rare Oysterplant and Scots Lovage grow at No 4 Barrier beach



Grass-of-Parnassus, Sea Milkwort and Vipers Bugloss are amongst the plants to be found at Bu Sands.



Burray has fairly few varieties of butterfly but the dunes at No 4 Barrier are one of the few places to see the Dark Green Fritillary


Dark Green Fritillary                                             Common Blue

Common Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies are also abundant.

Moths include The Herald, Poplar Hawk, Pale Shouldered Brocade and Common Wave among many others.

The rare Great Yellow Bumble Bee also lives here.


Sea Life

Being an island surrounded by seas offering many different types of environment from the relatively calm and shallow waters of Scapa Flow to the vast expanse of the North Sea, Burray has a wide variety of sea life.

The marine mammals are the most spectacular although some are more difficult to see than others.


Common and Grey Seals abound and can easily be seen around Hunda

Porpoise and Dolphins are not quite so easy to see but with a bit of persistance, sighting them is not that difficult. A simpler way to see them though is to take a trip across The Flow towards Flotta or Hoy or on The Pentalina on the trip to or from Gills bay. There is a good probability of seing some at some point during the trip. It is best however to go when the sea is calm so as to be able to observe them.

It is much easier to get a good view of cetaceans from a boat.

Other types of whales can be seen around Burray. The two photographs below were taken from the "Shiela C". This is the boat which Magnus Spence uses to give trips around Scapa Flow to see the wartime remains or the natural history. Good though Magnus is, he can't guarantee always  seeing Humpback whales or being followed by Killer whales!

The "Shiela C" being followed by a large Killer Whale.


A Humpback Whale doing a spectacular dive in Scapa Flow.

Minke Whales are also common visitors as well as the Basking Shark - the second biggest fish in the world.

Land Mammals

Although Burray is rich in the variety of its plants and animals, there is not a great variety of land mammals on the island. Rabbits are of course plentiful everywhere but hares, which are common on Mainland Orkney have not made it to Burray. Fortunately, the newly arrived stoats do not seem to have got here yet either.

The quiet and uninhabited island of Hunda to the west of Burray is a good place to see Otters although an element of luck and a good deal of patience are needed to see these elusive animals.

There is however one species, unique to Orkney that flourishes here. This is the Orkney Vole. The Orkney Vole is a different species than the common vole of the rest of the UK and is more closely related to Scandinavian species. It is much larger than the common vole and it is the main prey of Hen Harriers and Short Eared Owls.

An Orkney Vole carefully hanging onto a Hen Harrier!


The bird life of Burray is far too interesting for this small page to be able to do it justice. Local birder Dave Wakefield, however, has a Burray Birding blog and a Bird list. This gives a much better idea of the birds of Burray than could be given on this page.

Just click on the link below to go to his site.


There are however some birds which must be mentioned even in this small page. Although very rare in the rest of the UK, Hen Harriers are a common sight on Burray although to see one actually catching a vole as in the photo above, you need a bit of luck.The sight of a beautiful grey male quartering the fields in the early morning is one that nobody could forget. It is definitely a bird with a touch of magic.

Sparrow Hawks, Peregrin Falcons and Merlin can also be seen on the island and there seem to be an increasing number of Ravens who always loudly announce their presence.

The beach at No 4 Barrier in Burray is the home to the only Orkney breeding colony of the rare and graceful Little Tern.

Another rather iconic bird is the Short Eared Owl. These can be seen hunting or simply perching on fenceposts in broad daylight and they can be very obliging for photographers.

Short Eared Owl posing for a photograph.

Echa Loch has a variety of waterfowl including a pair of Mute Swans which nest each year right by the roadside.

Watersound and Echna Bay have sea ducks and both Red Throated and Black Throated Divers as well as the White Billed Diver which seems to have decided that Water Sound is home.

Though at home on the water, Divers are ungainly on land.

Because of the position of Orkney and the weather systems that pass through the area, rare migrant birds are more common than in most other parts of the UK, so there is always the excitement of knowing that almost anything is possible.

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