Plans to rebuild a world-famous bird observatory after a devastating fire have been given a huge boost.
The Fair Isle Bird Observatory was destroyed in a blaze in 2019.
Donations from around the world flooded in to help the charity rise from the ashes, but it has not been easy – with its two staff made redundant.
But now the £7.4million project can take a major step forward after being awarded £2.3million funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Government.
The project, which is led by Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBOT), will create seven new green jobs, help to sustain the island’s population and meet the community’s aspirations to become carbon neutral by 2040.
Work will now begin next summer – with the first visitors expected through the doors in 2023.
Kathy Coull, chairwoman of the Fair Isles Community, welcomed the news and said: “It signals a great step on our island’s road to recovery.”
Rise from the ashes
The Fair Isle Bird Observatory was first established in 1948 and the last building was constructed in 2010. The accommodation included 25 guestrooms, a warden’s house, staff quarters, and front-and-back-of-house areas.
A team of 20 firefighters battled for almost a day to extinguish the flames after they took hold in the roof, with crews transported by helicopter and the RNLI.
Despite only having a population of around 50 people, donations flooded in – totalling £650,000 – to rebuild the observatory, which also plays an important research role.
However, both Covid and Brexit impacted the rebuild plans, with the only company submitting a tender for the rebuild several million pounds over the projected budget – forcing FIBOT to restart the tendering process.
The new premises will include 29 high-quality guest rooms for visitors and staff with social space and facilities for research.
Designed by Inverness-based Colin Armstrong Architects, it will be primarily be constructed off-site, with modules being shipped to the Fair Isle for assembly and completion works.
“Vital importance to Fair Isle”
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.
“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.”
The £2,348,590 support package includes £650,000 from HIE’s budget and almost £1.7m of funding from the Scottish Government with £1.3m coming from the Scottish Islands Critical Infrastructure Fund.