By JOHN ROBERTSON
THE ISLAND of Noss could one day be split in two by erosion from the sea, councillor Jonathan Wills warned this week. He told a meeting on coastal erosion in Shetland he had observed the island after the weekend’s storm and believed the beach at Nesti Voe (circled) had moved backwards into the land. Eventually there might be one island with the only house on it and another with the bird reserve, he said.
Dr Wills wondered whether such a possibly large-scale coastal protection job might ever be contemplated by the council, involving transporting barges of rock to an uninhabited island to stop it becoming divided.
SIC flooding and coastal protection engineer Jonathan Duncan said there was a hierarchy for coastal works which has the main aim of protecting Shetland’s existing infrastructure, such as public buildings, airports and graveyards.
According to council policy, next in line are private houses and their roads followed by business premises, heritage sites and, finally, land with no buildings on it. Although Noss would fall well down that list he said as a big tourist attraction it might qualify for protection if a good case could be made for funding it. As somebody had said to him recently, “there is only a limited amount of land on Shetland and if we let it all fall into the sea we’ll be left with nothing”.
Earlier at the infrastructure and environment forum Mr Duncan said there was no statutory requirement on the SIC to protect the coast but it did so when it felt obliged to, either because its own assets were at risk or because there was a good case for action.
Examples of schemes done by the SIC are the recently completed reinforcements of the spit of land in Fair Isle that divides the North and South Havens where new stone-filled gabion baskets and a mattress of stone have been laid. In Whalsay the Kirkness Graveyard has been saved from falling into the sea by reclaiming a strip of land with heavy rocks placed along the shore.
Other works have been done at Banks Cottage in Norwick, Unst, and the sea wall at Grutness House at Sumburgh. A site which could cost a lot of money to save is at the Crook in Norby, Sandness, where land behind the beach is being lost to the sea. Mr Duncan said he was monitoring the situation.
A number of others sites need work, including the Sea Road in Lerwick, the Burn Beach at Scalloway, Minn Beach in Burra and the Ollaberry graveyard.
The SIC, unlike some councils, such as Orkney’s, has a grant scheme for people wanting to do small-scale works. Four applications are currently being processed but Mr Duncan said few people took advantage of the scheme, the reason for which he did not know, although it might be because jobs involving private houses require a 20 per cent contribution from the owner, up to £1,200. He said people did get in touch with concerns during times of bad weather but their interest seemed to wane once the weather improved. Urgent works, which are more than just repairs or maintenance, can attract grants from the government.
Mr Duncan is currently carrying out an audit of coastal erosion around Shetland. Having completed the south and central Mainland he is working on the western and northern parts and hopes to have a full picture by the end of spring. Each case will then be assessed for priority and funding sought.