A rallying call has been issued to save a wildlife rescue unit established in the wake of the Braer oil disaster.
Chairman of the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group, Mike Richardson, has called for the SSPCA to reconsider its decision or consider alternatives following the announcement it will close the centre in Gott.
The facility, which opened in 1994 was largely funded by the Sullom Voe Association – parent body of SOTEAG and whose members include Shetland Islands Council and BP, along with other organisations.
But in December the SSPCA unexpectedly announced the closure of the unit – stating it could not justify the £13,000 a year running costs.
The charity said only 10 birds were handled in 2012 and in future, oiled birds would be sent to a multi-million pound centre in Clackmannanshire.
Members of SOTEAG met last week to discuss the closure, as did the Wildlife Response Co-ordinating Committee – a sub committee of SOTEAG.
SOTEAG chairman Mike Richardson said a conference call had been held with Mike Flynn senior superintendent of the SSPCA.
But he said discussions were not productive and believes the SSPCA is going to move rapidly to close the Gott centre.
In a letter to the SSPCA, Mr Richardson said: “Given the origin of much of the capital finance to construct this facility it was most regrettable and disappointing that there was no prior consultation by the SSPCA before they took the decision for closure.”
He claimed the rationale for the decision was down to lack of use and running costs.
But “under-utilisation” was good news, he said as the centre was there in case of an oil spill.
“But, conversely, its use might be required tomorrow (or next week).”
“An incident in Shetland has the potential to involve hundreds if not thousands of casualties,” warned Mr Richardson.
“Shetland has the particular distinction of a juxtaposition of very large concentrations of breeding, resident and migratory seabirds alongside oil-related infrastructure (offshore and onshore) and inshore tanker traffic.
“Exacerbating that situation is Shetland’s location, with the real possibility that links with mainland Scotland cannot be guaranteed year-round.
“In other words oil-spill casualties cannot necessarily be moved rapidly off Shetland to the SSPCA facilities in Clackmannanshire. The requirement for a Shetland-based facility is therefore paramount.”
He added if problems over running costs had been raised by the SSPCA “a workable solution” might well have been devised.
In addition to his letter, Mr Richardson told The Shetland Times he expects the land to be sold off for housing.
He said the SSPCA used the unit as their office and believed the costs were related to normal administration costs for an office.
But finding temporary facilities and ones that could give the correct requirements would be difficult, he said, hence the reason the centre was built.
A copy of the letter has also been sent to isles MP Alistair Carmichael, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, Scottish environment minister Paul Weelhouse and convenor of Shetland Islands Council, Malcolm Bell.
Yesterday an online petition was launched by Jan and Pete Bevington of Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary.
More than 900 signatures have been collected in a bid to stop the closure or pass it over to the local community, which contributed heavily to its creation.
Mr Bevington said: “I think there’s a lot of strong feeling about this in Shetland and elsewhere because there’s a lot of people all over the world who care a great deal for Shetland wildlife and are concerned by the step that has been taken here and want to do what they can to save this unit.”
He added: “We feel fairly sure from the levels of support we are receiving; we would be able to raise money locally to keep this place going because it’s so important to Shetland.”
A statement on the petition says: “Closing the wildlife rescue unit not only leaves Shetland’s wildlife extremely vulnerable in the event of an oil spill, but leaves no local rehabilitation facilities for wildlife in trouble from severe winter storms or other traumas. Without this unit wild birds and other creatures must endure a 16 hour journey to central Scotland that many will not survive.”
A full version of this story will be published in The Shetland Times. Click to subscribe to the online version ofthe paper.