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World-famous bird observatory to be rebuilt following devastating fire

The fire took hold in the roof space of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory before completely destroying the building.
The fire took hold in the roof space of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory before completely destroying the building.

The president of a world-famous bird observatory destroyed in a fire has vowed it will rise from the ashes.

The Fair Isle Bird Observatory caught fire on Sunday, with firefighters drafted in by air and sea to tackle the flames overnight.

The building has been destroyed, with books, paintings and the diaries of the observatory’s founder feared lost.

Last night Roy Dennis, president of the observatory trust, described it as an “absolute shock” but said the team was determined to rebuild.


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“The main thing is that all our people are safe and nobody was hurt,” he said.

“It is a dreadful thing to happen, just at the beginning of the season as well. Within the next week, our assistants would be due to arrive and from April visitors, so it really is dreadful.

“It is so important for there to be a bird observatory on Fair Isle.

“What is certain is that trust directors aim is to restore a fantastic bird observatory on Fair Isle.”

He added: “The big problem is, with it being a very remote island, is it is incredibly difficult to build it, and it is equally as difficult to protect it.

“We are extremely grateful for all involved who tried to save our bird observatory.”

Around 20 firefighters were transported in to tackle the blaze, with assistance coming from the Coastguard search and rescue helicopter and the Lerwick lifeboat

The incident was first reported around 11.20am, with around 20 firefighters in total tackling the blaze. Crews remained in attendance yesterday morning before the stop message was received at 10am.

Mr Dennis confirmed that the records gathered from the Fair Isle, spanning around 70 years, had been digitised so have not been lost in the tragedy, however, items like books and paintings will probably have been lost.

He said diaries belonging to George Waterston, who founded the observatory on the island in the 1940s, are likely to have also succumbed to the fire.

An online fundraiser has been launched to try and aid in the rebuild, led by conservation biology student Cassie Chanin, 21.

She said: “Even though I’ve never been to Fair Isle or even that far north in Scotland, I knew about the observatory from my friend and hearing of its loss was really devastating.

“I hope that the message gets spread far and wide and that it is something positive for the wardens and people on the island.”

Mr Dennis thanked well-wishers for their kind words and contributions, however, reiterated that the building and business were adequately insured before the fire, therefore, the trust would not be issuing their own public appeal for donations.

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