Birds vital for future, say Fair Islanders

Fair Isle will celebrate the official opening of its new £4 million bird observatory this weekend by calling for its waters to be protected following successive drops in bird populations.

The community is calling on the Scottish government to make the coastal waters a “demonstration and research” marine protection area, or MPA.

Islanders have been concerned about the breeding failure of some seabirds, and the impact it could have on Fair Isle which has one of the UK’s largest seabird colonies.

They say the health and productivity of the marine environment is vital to ensure that it remains a success.

The call is being made with support from the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust and the National Trust for Scotland.

Local expertise and the substantive information already collected mean the qualities of the marine environment, culture and maritime heritage can be interpreted and made available.

Islanders have also congratulated the bird observatory trust for its considerable investment in the new building and its determination to secure its future.

The trust stumped up an impressive £150,000 for the project, while Fair Islanders themselves raised £100,000.

Shetland Islands Council pledged £1.5 million and the Scottish government – through the Scottish rural development programme – offered a further £2 million.

Dignitaries are expected to land in the island tomorrow to officially mark the opening of the new building, which is widely considered to be a vast improvement on the old observatory.

The drive by islanders comes in light of the new Scottish Marine Bill, which encourages communities to pioneer marine management methods aimed at better sustainability of the marine resource.

Resident and community association member Fiona Mitchell said: “For more than 60 years the observatory and staff have been an essential element of our island community.

“The observatory work not only draws attention to our rich environment but also plays a large part in the socio-economic well-being and stability of the community by attracting visitors to Fair Isle, and to Shetland.”

The new observatory has had a difficult gestation since building work first began on the ambitious project two years ago.

It was nearing completion when contractor, Orkney-based AH Wilson, succumbed to mounting financial pressures and called in receivers. Many islanders were left out of pocket, but Fair Isle construction firm Northmen took over the project to help bring it to completion.

The observatory is made up of individual sections, or “pods”, which neatly slotted together to form a completed building.

The pods were built in Orkney before being shipped up to Fair Isle by a huge barge, which was sent over especially from Sweden.


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