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Funding for £7.4m project to rebuild bird observatory

Plans to rebuild the world-renowned bird observatory on Fair Isle have received a boost with an award of £2.35m from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the Scottish government.

Colin Armstrong Architects
Colin Armstrong Architects

The observatory was established in 1948 and has played a vital role in sustaining the population of Fair Isle, which is located roughly halfway between Orkney and Shetland and currently has a population of around 50.

The £7.4m project, which is led by Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBOT), will help to sustain the island's population and meet the community’s aspirations to become carbon neutral by 2040.

Designed by Colin Armstrong Architects, the modular building will largely be constructed off-site, with modules being shipped to Fair Isle for assembly and completion works. It will include 29 high quality guest rooms for visitors and staff with social space and facilities for research. This will occupy the site of the most recent building, which was completed in 2011 but destroyed in a fire in March 2019.

The development aims to create a sustainable and energy efficient building, using power from the island’s community-owned renewable energy grid as well as from the building’s own solar panels.

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

“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,” said Katrina Wiseman, interim area manager for HIE’s Shetland area team.

The £7.4m project is also being supported by FIBOT’s own funds as well as an international crowdfunding appeal to raise £650,000 for the rebuild. Shetland Islands Council and Garfield Weston Foundation have also contributed to the project.

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