Vow to rebuild fire-hit Fair Isle Bird Observatory in Shetland

Media caption,
The fire is understood to have started in the roof of the building

The president of Shetland's world-renowned bird observatory, which was destroyed by fire at the weekend, has vowed to rebuild it.

Firefighters were called to the Fair Isle Bird Observatory at about 11:20 on Sunday.

No-one was hurt in the blaze, including a family living in the adjoining flat. The observatory's records have also survived as they were digitised.

Observatory president Roy Dennis said the fire was "shocking".

Image source, BBC
Image caption,
The fire is understood to have started in the roof of the building

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, he added: "Thank goodness no-one was injured or killed.

"Now we've got to get on and rebuild. We are so important to that island."

He said the observatory's treasurer would ask the insurers to start the process of securing the funds to rebuild it, which he expects to take a year.

Image source, BBC

One local told BBC Scotland a Fair Isle boat crew spotted smoke while out on the water just after leaving the harbour, and turned back to raise the alarm.

Photographer Rob Fray could see a plume of smoke from the blaze from the Sumburgh Hotel in Shetland - approximately 30 miles across the water.

Mr Dennis said the challenges posed by the island's location made it difficult to construct the observatory and to contain the fire, which is believed to have started in the roof.

He said: "It's the most remote island and that's why it was very difficult for the fire crews to get there quickly and why it is very difficult building a big building like that on such an isolated island.

"We know there is a big challenge ahead."

Image source, Rob Fray
Image caption,
The smoke from the blaze could be seen for miles

He added that all of the observatory's records, going back to 1948, were digitised and so were safe.

The 70 years' worth of material can inform researchers about climate and environmental changes, he added.

He said the fire was "tragic" for the "excellent" researchers who regularly visited the island.

Image caption,
The new observatory was built in 2010

Why is Fair Isle Bird Observatory important?

The observatory, which is located on the north east of the island, is a popular tourist spot for bird watching and for scientific research into seabirds and bird migration.

It is also important to the economy of Fair Isle, which is famous for its knitting and has a population of about 60.

It was established in 1948 with the current building constructed in 2010, offering three-star accommodation to visitors.

The observatory is run by an independent charity but has close links to other organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland which owns the remainder of the island.

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