Demolition men move in on Fair Isle bird observatory

The observatory is demolished to make way for the new building. Click on image to enlarge.
The observatory is demolished to make way for the new building. Click on image to enlarge.

Work is underway in Orkney to build individual sections of the new Fair Isle Bird Observatory before they are shipped up by a huge barge being sent over from Sweden.

Construction firm AH Wilson is building modules, or “pods”, that will neatly slot together to form the new observatory once they are lifted onto dry land at Fair Isle by crane.

The new building is expected to make a major contribution to the island, attracting up to 30 visitors at a time once it is open.

Currently the pods are being developed in a warehouse in Kirkwall, where they are being kept in dry and clean conditions.

Plans have been devised to transport them to a storage facility at the Hatston Industrial Estate, before they are then transported to Fair Isle.

The specially commissioned barge is understood to be so large it is unable to get into the Haven at Fair Isle. It will have to anchor some way off to allow the pods to be transferred to a smaller vessel which will take them ashore.

The barge is expected to arrive in Fair Isle at the end of next week once a weather window allows it to complete the journey from Orkney.

Vice chairman of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBO), Dave Okill, said the building would bring new vibrancy to the island.

“Obviously this is a major project. It’s the biggest build in Fair Isle since we put the breakwater in,” he said.

“FIBO has got the full backing of islanders and we see this new building supporting the whole of the island. “It will be able to take up to 30 visitors at a time. We see it as a major contribution to the island and its economy.”

Getting the hardware to Fair Isle will prove something of a headache, but Mr Okill said putting it all together would take days rather than weeks, as the pods will effectively be slotted together Lego-style.

“The builders are pretty confident they can get it into position in a number of days,” he said.

In the meantime the old observatory, which was put up in 1968, has already been demolished to make way for the new building, although many of its parts will be recycled in Fair Isle itself.

The bird observatory originally opened its doors over 60 years ago. Since then it has become a world-renowned centre for research on migrating birds and seabirds.

It has also become a hugely popular destination for visitors interested in wildlife and the quiet surroundings Fair Isle has to offer.

The new building will have improved research facilities which should encourage student visits from colleges and universities, as well as improved accommodation.

It was made possible thanks to a funding grant of £1,150,000 from the SIC and almost £250,000 raised through the observatory’s own appeal.

Just under £2 million was pledged from the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP). Highlands and Islands Enterprise has also supported the venture to the tune of £400,000.


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