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Shetland Isles - The History and Economic Growth of the Shetland Isles


Travelling some miles off the northeast coast of the United Kingdom, one is bound to stumble upon an archipelago most commonly known as the Shetland Isles. Its name derives from the Gaelic pronunciation Sealtainn, and it is located in the division between the western side of Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea’s eastern flank.

The archipelago’s total area is of around 1,466 km2 (566 sq mi), of which the island known as the Mainland is the biggest one with more than 950 km2 (around 373 sq mi) in area. The archipelago’s administrative centre is the burgh of Lerwick, which along with the rest of the islands; together represent one of the thirty two main council areas of Scotland. The Shetland Isles are also a lieutenancy area and were a county of Scotland in the past.

Short History

The very first traces of any population on the Shetland Isles go all the way back to the year 3400 BC, where some evidence can be found of small groups forming in the area. However, around the year 2000 BC, a change in the climate made the inhabitants move to the coast. Many years after that, during the Iron Age, many fortresses were built in the region, however, very little remains of them nowadays.

Centuries later, around the year 875 and after a period of many confrontations involving Norway and Scotland, the Shetland Isles fell under control of Norway. Not long after that, near the 10th century, the Isles were Christianized. It wasn’t until the 13th century that Norway started to lose its grip on Scotland and finally surrendered most of it in the well known Treaty of Perth of 1266. However, along with the treaty, the Scottish people acknowledged the sovereignty of Norway over the Shetland Isles.

The situation of the Shetland Isles remained the same for some hundreds of years until 1669, when a Scottish Act of Parliament made the islands a Crown dependency.

Years after this happened, in 1970, oil and gas were found off the shores of the Shetland Isles. The place where the findings occurred became known as the East Shetland Basin, one of the largest petroleum sources in Europe. The extracted petroleum is exported by the Sullom Voe terminal, the largest oil export company in the UK.

Such is the importance of the income generated by petroleum exports, that it has revitalized the economy of the Shetland Isles. This has greatly reduced emigration from the region and improved the infrastructure in the isles as well. Other prominent productive activities of the islands include farming and fishing, which still greatly contribute to the economic situation of the region.

Nowadays, the Shetland Isles are also known for their beautiful scenery and countryside, which keeps bringing more and more tourist to the region every year.