Wildlife enthusiast Jan Bevington who runs the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary is to receive a special award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Her award, recognising many years of dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating injured or abandoned marine wildlife, will be presented at IFAW’s Animal Action Awards event, hosted by Baroness Anita Gale and presented by TV wildlife presenter Bill Oddie at the House of Lords on 21st October.
Mrs Bevington, 67, has been caring for sick animals throughout Shetland for more than 27 years.
She rescued her first seal in May 1987 after finding it stranded on the beach in front of her house in Hillswick. At the time she could not find anyone in Shetland who knew how to look after a motherless seal pup, so she contacted the seal sanctuary in Gweek, Cornwall, to find out what to do.
As a result she established the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary to look after sick, injured and abandoned seals and otters.
By that September she was caring for seven seal pups. It was at that point she realised she had found her life’s work. From then on people started bringing all kinds of wild creatures, but her main love from the start was for seals, cetaceans and otters.
In October 1991, after severe storms, almost 100 grey seal pups were left stranded on nearby shores. With help from volunteers, Mrs Bevington saved 45 of them, though the sheer number of animals involved meant that many had to be flown south to other sanctuaries.
On 5th January 1993, disaster struck as an oil tanker, the Braer, ran aground at Garth’s Ness on the southern tip of the isles, spilling 85,000 tonnes of crude oil into the sea. A huge rescue operation for Shetland’s wildlife was put into operation.
Animal welfare groups and volunteers from all over the world descended on Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, which became the response centre for oiled seals and otters.
With financial resources now available and along with a small army of volunteers, emergency facilities were swiftly put in place to receive victims of the spill. In total 37 seals and nine otters were treated. Sadly only two otters survived, but all but one seal survived.
President and CEO of IFAW, Azzedine Downes said: “Jan’s dedication has seen her rescue countless marine mammals over the years and she is a great example of animal welfare in action. She is a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Marine Rescue Award.”
The Braer disaster created a platform for Mrs Bevington to devote herself entirely to caring for wildlife, and she opened a vegetarian cafe at her home to raise funds for the sanctuary.
Now a Scottish registered charity, Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary continues to look after sick, injured and abandoned marine wildlife in Shetland.
Mrs Bevington said: “I was completely taken aback when I heard about this award. I just do this work for the love of it; it’s an honour to have been nominated and for Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary to receive such recognition.”
Mrs Bevington helps coordinate rescues when whales or dolphins strand on the islands’ coastline. She is also part of Shetland’s Wildlife Response Coordinating Committee, set up to respond to any major pollution incident in the area.
She is now trying to raise funds to upgrade all the facilities at the sanctuary, especially with the oil and gas boom in Shetland creating a new pollution threat.