‘Dream come true’ as work begins on £400k sanctuary redevelopment

Shetland’s only wildlife sanctuary is finally set to realise its dream to become a state of the art facility after work began on its £400,000 redevelopment. 

Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary said the upgrade, which follows years of planning and fundraising, would guarantee its longterm future rescuing and rehabilitating seals and otters back to the wild. 

A turf cutting ceremony this morning (Wednesday)  marked the start of the project, which will include a visitor centre and a seawater pumping system.

Sanctuary founder Jan Bevington said: “I have been holding this vision of a well-built wildlife sanctuary in my heart ever since I rescued my first seal back in the summer of 1987.

“We have come a long way since that time, when I had to work with little more than watering cans and children’s paddling pools.

“To witness work start on creating facilities that will stand the test of time and ensure Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary remains here for future generations really is a dream come true.”

The project has been made possible through a number of substantial donations and support from the Shetland community. 

Almost three quarters of the funding is coming from the Sullom Voe Association, which represents Shetland Islands Council and the islands’ energy industry.

The SIC’s infrastructure director John Smith said the council and SVA were  very pleased to support the sanctuary and its efforts to ensure it can continue protecting Shetland’s iconic marine mammals long into the future.

Most of the remaining financial support has been made available from the Shetland LEADER Programme 2014-2020 – an initiative supported by the European Union and Scottish government,

International wildlife charity World Animal Protection is contributing £25,000 towards improving the sanctuary’s indoor seal unit, while Scottish charity J & JR Wilson Trust has put £3,000 towards equipment.

Peter Kemple-Hardy, of World Animal Protection, said the charity had been supporting the sanctuary’s valuable rescue work for several years as part of its Sea Change campaign.

“We are very much looking forward to seeing its seal unit transformed into a state of the art facility equipped to continue that work for many years to come,” he added. 

Shetland Construction and Developments Ltd, which won the contract for the building work last year, has this week started preparing the foundations of the upgraded facilities.

Work had been due to commence in April but was held up due to the Covid-19 lockdown. 

SCD director Frank Sinclair said he was delighted to finally start work after months of enforced inactivity.

“Of course, we are disappointed to have lost the best part of the year for building work, but we are looking forward to the challenge in the weeks and months ahead of turning Jan’s vision into reality,” he added. 

HWS director Pete Bevington added: “We are extremely grateful to the funders and the builders for sticking with us for the many years it has taken for this vision of a well-built and fully resilient wildlife sanctuary to take shape.

“We would also like to thank the many kind and generous people in Shetland and around the world who actively support us, and without whom we would not be able to carry on this labour of love.

“With building work finally commencing, we can now look forward to the future and start preparing for the next generation of people to care for Shetland’s precious marine wildlife.”

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