By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
Work on a new £4 million bird observatory in Fair Isle is set to start in the next few weeks after the trust which operates it received nearly £2.5 million in funding towards the project.
Earlier this week Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) pledged £400,000 towards the world famous observatory to add to the £1.15 million already pledged by the SIC.
And then yesterday the Scottish Government announced that the project would receive almost £2 million under its Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP).
The 40-year-old observatory attracts thousands of birdwatchers from all over the world and is used by several universities to carry out important scientific studies, especially in migrating birds and sea birds. It now needs to invest in new premises in order to retain and expand its activities. FIBO warden Deryk Shaw said that the trust was delighted to receive the grant from HIE.
“We spent a year looking into the feasibility of renovating the observatory but realised the most cost effective solution was to build anew,” he said.
Yesterday staff at the observatory were over the moon at the announcement of the SRDP funding.
The Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBOT) has invested £150,000 of its own money in the project while a fundraising campaign it started last year has raised nearly £100,000. The remaining funding will come from various trusts and sponsors.
The internationally renowned observatory plays a key role in the Fair Isle community by attracting tourists and also underpins the local shop and the lifeline air and ferry services for the 70 island residents.
Fair Isle resident Dave Wheeler said the observatory had played a “huge part” in the life of the island and islanders were keen to see this continue. He said: “From its early days it has brought an enormous number of visitors, not just birdwatchers, and contributed greatly to the well-being of the island.”
The existing building supports two full time jobs and seven seasonal posts. However FIBOT is confident that its ambitious development proposals could provide even more employment, with around seven jobs during the one-year construction phase, and a possible further two long term posts through the extra visitor spend on the island.
HIE approved backing for the project, recognising the potential that improved facilities for scientific research and visitor accommodation will have on Fair Isle’s future welfare.
HIE area manager Stuart Robertson said: “Not only does Fair Isle Bird Observatory play a key role in keeping this fragile community viable, it plays an important part in Shetland’s tourism industry as a whole. Our assistance fits with our policy of supporting social enterprises which show growth ambitions. The observatory’s plans will extend the visitor season, raise the quality of experience and widen the appeal of the area to general tourists as well as to its bird-watching customer base.”
The agency’s head of strengthening communities in Shetland, Katrina Wiseman said: “It is very important that remote communities like Fair Isle are given the opportunity to sustain themselves, and without the observatory this would be extremely difficult.
“We wish FIBOT every success with the rest of their fund raising efforts and hope that with our help the first brick can be laid in the very near future.”
Andrew Wilson Contractors and Synergie Scotland have been awarded the contract to build the new observatory, which awaits planning permission.
- The proposed new museum in Scalloway also received a £400,000 funding boost when the SRDP funding announced yesterday.