Media Release: New Fair Isle bird observatory nearing completion

[A photograph of Shetland’s new centre is available to download at]

WORK to build a new eco-friendly bird observatory on Fair Isle looks set to be largely completed by the end of this month (December) – several weeks ahead of schedule.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) granted £400,000 towards the ambitious £4 million building project in March 2009, helping one of the most remote and fragile communities in Scotland to grow its business.

The 40 year-old building was knocked down in July and work started on a new modern building in August following the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust’s (FIBOT) success in raising funds for the capital phase of the project.

With up to 28 workmen currently on the island, the building is now due to be substantially finished before Christmas.

Meanwhile, fundraising is continuing for additional items such as two new generators, internal fittings, interpretive boards and equipment for the conference room.

The Fair Isle Bird Observatory has been an internationally-renowned centre for researching migratory birds and sea birds, and is used by several universities to carry out important scientific studies.

It attracts thousands of birdwatchers from all over the world, providing a centre for scientists and students to continue their long-term research on Fair Isle’s migratory and resident birds. Other visitors can come to view the birds and learn about them as part of their visit to Fair Isle.

The new building will continue to play a key role in the island’s community, helping to boost the local economy by attracting tourists. It also underpins the local shop and the lifeline air and ferry services for the 70 island residents.

The Trust is confident that its ambitious developments could provide more employment opportunities in the future including two long-term posts secured through extra visitor spend on the island.

HIE approved backing for the project, recognising the potential that improved facilities for scientific research and visitor accommodation will have on Fair Isle’s future welfare. HIE area manager, Stuart Robertson, said: “Not only does Fair Isle Bird Observatory play a key role in keeping this fragile community viable, it plays an important part in Shetland’s tourism industry as a whole.”

Stuart added: “Our assistance fits with our policy of supporting social enterprises which show growth ambitions. The Trust’s plans will extend the visitor season, raise the quality of experience and widen the appeal of the area to general tourists as well as to its bird-watching customer base. It is very important that remote communities like Fair Isle are given the opportunity to sustain themselves, and without the observatory this would be extremely difficult.”

FIBO warden, Deryk Shaw, said that the Trust was delighted with the works being so ahead of schedule. He said: “We are pleased with all the funding we have received to date, which will go a long way towards helping to retain and expand our activities. We spent a year looking into the feasibility of renovating it, but realised that the most cost effective solution was to build a new centre. We look forward to the building opening for business in the spring. With the growth of eco-tourism, the island now attracts more people than ever, from twitchers on the look out for rare migrants – to island enthusiasts. The new observatory has a crucial role to play in the island’s future.”

Synergie Scotland and AH Wilson are the contractors working on site. Funding for this project was also awarded by Shetland Islands Council (£1.15 million) and Scotland Rural Development Programme SRDP (£1.9million). FIBOT itself has invested £250,000 of its own money and raised more than £100,000 through its ongoing appeal.

For information on the broader appeal, see


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Contact: Lesley Gallagher
Phone: 01463 244244