Funding boost for £7.4m rebuild of Shetland bird observatory

Image credit: Colin Armstrong Architects

A £7.4 million project to rebuild a ‘world-renowned’ Shetland bird observatory has received a major funding boost.

The project comes after a fire completely destroyed the original Fair Isle Bird Observatory in 2019.

Built in 1948, the facility played a ‘vital’ role in sustaining the population of Fair isle, which is located roughly halfway between Orkney and Shetland – with a population of 50.

As well as being a popular visitor attraction for bird watchers, the observatory has had an important research role gathering bird census and migration data for the past 70 years.

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Government has announced a funding package of £2.35 million towards the rebuild project.

It will see a sustainable and energy efficient building created, featuring 29 high quality guest rooms alongside social space and facilities for research.

Designed by Inverness-based Colin Armstrong Architects, the modular building will largely be constructed off-site, with modules being shipped to Fair Isle for assembly and completion works.

Subject to planning consent, it is anticipated that construction on the island could get underway in summer 2022 and the new observatory be ready to welcome its first visitors in spring 2023.

Katrina Wiseman, interim area manager for HIE’s Shetland area team, said, “This project is of vital importance to Fair Isle bringing back a key income generating facility, providing employment, hosting visitors to the Island, and providing world renowned research. The facility provides significant spin-off benefits for all Fair Isle businesses and the community. It will support the viability and sustainability of one of the most remote islands in the UK and at the same contribute to the net zero aims of those living on the Island.

“The new observatory will be a prime example of carbon friendly, sustainable visitor accommodation, which along with the new green jobs, will have significant positive environmental impacts. The important research work carried out by FIBOT will expand, enabling marine research, in collaboration with the community, to help tackle the climate emergency.

“The project also addresses other challenges for Fair Isle such as keeping and attracting population, and the need for tourism to be more sustainable. We are very much looking forward to seeing the Observatory open once again.”