An Unst-based wildlife tour company has become one of only four in Scotland to be awarded the top tourist accolade of five stars.
Shetland Nature, established in 2006 by Brydon Thomason, was recently upgraded from four stars within VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance scheme.
The company, now a Five Star Wildlife Experience, arranges wildlife, birding and photography holidays and tours around Shetland, specialising in the isles’ natural heritage.
Mr Thomason, originally from Fetlar, said he was thrilled with the award, which makes Shetland Nature one of only four out of 41 wildlife experiences in Scotland to have achieved this.
He said: “No surprise to say it, but I am extremely proud to be awarded five stars and to be the first wildlife experience to do so in Shetland. Obviously this means a great deal to me personally, but there are more than just myself who have worked hard towards achieving this.
“I am very fortunate to have the support from those who work and collaborate with me at Shetland Nature, none more so than [guide] Gary Bell and Karen Hannay [who does the admin].
“The wildlife that visitors experience here is second to none, and yes, I am understandably biased, but to have the experience we offer our guests accredited to this level, really is something we are all extremely proud of.
“This is also a fantastic achievement for tourism in Shetland, to have one of only four Five Star Wildlife Experiences throughout Scotland makes it feel all the more special.”
VisitScotland islands manager Steve Mathieson said: “Nature tourism is incredibly important not only to Shetland but Scotland as a whole. I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Brydon and his team at Shetland Nature on this fantastic achievement.
“Five-star status shows visitors that they can expect a fantastic and enjoyable experience, while learning all about the amazing wildlife here in Shetland.”
People come from all over the world for the wildlife experience, especially to see otters and birds, which offer attractions at different stages of their lives at various times of year.
Mr Thomason said: “It’s incredible just how far people travel to experience what we have here in Shetland. In some ways it’s ironic – to be an international tour company and yet specialising solely on Shetland is something I feel very important and proud of. Why travel overseas with guests when we have so much to show them here?
“The Shetland nature tourism season has traditionally been May to August, with another peak for birding in late September and early October. It’s been a great thing to expand that season to actually work full time and run tours all year round. It is especially my work with otters that has kept us busy in the ‘shoulder seasons’.
“Otters are certainly one of if not our biggest attraction as a nature tour company, something that has undoubtedly evolved around my life’s passion for them.”
Mr Thomason has a team of people who lead tours and collaborate on itineraries, including Micky Maher, Rob Fray, Richard Shucksmith, Rebecca Nason, Martin Garner, Allen Fraser and James Tait, who, he said, have all helped towards this achievement.