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Our Green Story: Seabirds and Seals
We’re Marie and Brian Leask. We’re both from Shetland, with a lifetime’s experience of our islands’ heritage. We’ve been together since 2005, got married in 2019 and we run the award-winning Seabirds-and-Seals Noss Boat Tours. We grew up around boats and have extensive seafaring experience, having spent more than two years sailing a 52ft yacht from Shetland to the Mediterranean and back before we bought the Seabirds-and-Seals business.
We operate daily from April through to October, weather permitting of course. We run 2-hour tours and a 3-hour tour around the islands of Bressay and Noss, guaranteeing close-up views of Noss National Nature Reserve, one of Britain’s most sensational reserves. The island’s 181m sandstone cliffs are home to 25,000 gannets and thousands of other seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins.
Our passengers have superb opportunities to observe and photograph wildlife against the stunning backdrop of the towering cliffs. On the way out to Noss we share stories about the wildlife, local history, geology and folklore of Lerwick’s beautiful harbour and the varied shoreline of Bressay. We sail past the Bressay Lighthouse, explore the eerie depths of the Orkneyman’s Cave, sail through the Giant’s Leg natural arch and explore seal holms and sheltered coves.
As well as our popular scheduled daily tours we offer a year-round private charter service for photography groups, wildlife tourism companies, visiting film crews and other excursion parties who book exclusive use. We also help with scientific monitoring of seabird and seal colonies.
Our catamaran ‘Seabird’ is a much more stable platform for passengers than a conventional single-hulled vessel: there’s wheelchair-accessible deck space for panoramic views; spacious inside cabin; and also a toilet at deck level – no steps to climb.
With 31 years of continuous trading, Seabirds-and-Seals is the longest-established Noss boat tour business, founded in 1992 by naturalist Dr Jonathan Wills with Brian involved as marine engineer and relief crew from the start. All these years later, we’re still sailing under Jonathan’s brand ‘The Noss Boat’ and are currently ranked the Number One local excursion on TripAdvisor (just one of the many wildlife tourism awards in our trophy cabinet).
Jonathan pioneered underwater viewing in Scotland, using remotely controlled submarine video cameras. We continue this unique feature, enthralling visitors from all over the world with amazing views of Shetland’s rich and diverse marine life, including the dense kelp forest that recently starred on David Attenborough’s ‘Wild Isles’ BBC TV series.
Jonathan’s lavishly illustrated book, ‘Seabirds-and-Seals’, tells the story of this successful local wildlife tourism venture and provides a detailed guide to the coastline of Bressay and Noss, above and below the waves. Copies are on sale aboard The Noss Boat ‘Seabird’ and at our online shop.
We are very proud to have received a Green Tourism Silver grading award earlier this year. Ever since the early days of Seabirds-and-Seals (The Noss Boat), we have been committed to operating our tours in a responsible manner. Our business is wildlife tourism and run by passionate nature lovers for those with an appreciation of the natural world. We have a passion for conservation and the need to ensure the long-term protection of species and habitats.
Connecting with communities
We advocate working with local communities and leaving a positive impact on the destinations we visit and this has always been a fundamental part of our business. One example is our yearly collaboration with Shetland Carers, whereby we donate a few tours throughout our busy season which runs from April to October to their ‘Respitality Scheme’. Our donations have been greatly appreciated by ‘Shetland Carers’ – allowing a carer and companion to take a break from their caring routine which can certainly make a difference to how they feel. Many have often told us this has been the best break offered to them in the scheme as they love getting out in the water and connecting with nature.
We know how hard Covid has hit businesses and like to see Lerwick town centre staying alive, so we decided to team up with a local business that gives 20% discount to each adult that joins our tour and can be used at a choice of two establishments they run.
Amanda of Shetland Carers presenting us with our certificate of thanks for signing up to their fantastic scheme
Out of the water
In times of Covid we were faced with many challenges, but we faced the storm and with the restriction in 2020 stopping us from getting out on the water, it gave us time to reflect on our business voyage and our future goals. We took the time to make further developments by opening our online shop to let the world see our eco-friendly Noss Boat merchandise as well as other products which make fabulous gift ideas.
When Covid restrictions eased in 2021 to allow us to operate again, we went further and put other plans in place to move us in the right direction towards our green journey and always looking to improve our sustainable practices. Customer care is everything to us and we always like to hear our customer experiences/feedback. One thing we decided to trial following feedback was a hearing loop. We trialled it last year and worked ok, but since then we have invested in individual handsets/headsets for each passenger. So far it has been a huge success with fabulous feedback and adds that personal touch to the tour, we believe in social inclusion for all.
We include a refreshments stop on all our tours – anchoring in a tranquil little bay which offers plenty of wildlife and photography opportunities. We use ‘Fairtrade’ products which is sourced locally from our Co-Op supermarket.
Our tours are very family friendly with activities for our younger sailors and each receive a FREE eco-friendly activity pack.
The first Noss Boat Tour of the 2023 season with the sun shining throughout and 12 extremely happy passengers.
Strength to strength
Our business continues to go from strength to strength. Thank you, Green Tourism for giving us this opportunity and a fabulous start to our 2023 Noss Boat Tours season. We will continue to keep updating our Green Tourism assessment as we progress through the action plans we have in place through Green Tourism. Our team are committed to reducing our impact on the planet, and we are always looking at ways to improve our commitment to caring for our environment and for our customers/staff.
We look forward to welcoming you onboard The Noss Boat ‘Seabird’.
Best wishes from Marie, Brian and all the team at Seabirds-and-Seals.
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