NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Orkney salmon farm plans eco homes to keep workers

Mill Bay Eday
Image caption The site at Mill Bay in Eday used to be the island's fishing harbour

A salmon farm in Orkney is planning to build a small development of houses to stop workers leaving their jobs.

Phil Boardman, Scottish Sea Farms manager in Eday, says trained staff have left because "we didn't have anywhere for them to go home to".

Now the firm plans to erect four eco-friendly cabins on a site at Mill Bay in the island.

The owners of the land plan to add two more units which will be available for short-term or holiday lets.

Those behind the £750,000 development say it could serve as a model for other islands where communities need workers, and those workers need homes.

Image caption An example of the type of unit being planned for the site in Orkney
Image caption Phil Boardman is manager of the salmon farm in Eday

The one-bedroom cabins for workers will be constructed off site and shipped in, and are designed to be environmentally friendly.

Mr Boardman told BBC Radio Orkney: "The units themselves are very highly insulated. We've got air source heating in all the units.

"They're all going to have grass sedum roofs, to cut down on surface water discharge. And we're going to have on-site treatment plants - reed beds - for effluent.

"But that's our footprint. That's what exits the site. So it's absolutely right that we keep that as clean as humanly possible."

Image caption Regional manager for Orkney, Richard Darbyshire, says the firm is proud of its sustainable production
Image caption The site for the eco development has been described as one of the most beautiful beaches in Orkney

But fish farms don't always have the best reputation, because of claims about the environmental impact of their cages out at sea. So are eco homes for workers just window dressing?

Regional manager for Scottish Sea Farms in Orkney, Richard Darbyshire, says the firm is proud of its sustainable production methods.

"We get really good results and the main reason for that is the way we produce our fish, as sustainably as possible," he said.

"We still have no sea lice. That's a good indicator of how well we can farm our fish here.

"And we always try to do what's best for the environment, and what's best for our fish."

And the landowners who are leasing the ground for the development hope that it will be good for the community in Eday too.

Image caption Haydn Jones and Nick Lyde say they hope the homes for fish farm workers - plus two more for short-term lets - will boost the local community
Image caption Work is due to begin at the site this week, with the cabins ready to receive their first residents before spring 2020

Haydn Jones, who is one half of the property company which owns the site, said: "One of the barriers to getting a small business up and running on Eday - especially in terms of something in the service industry - is getting people out here.

"To make a business successful you just need people. So the more people you attract, the more chance people on the island have to create a business for themselves."

That dilemma - the fact that people won't move to a place without somewhere to live, but no-one will build new houses without being sure there's a market for them - is one that island communities across Orkney, and people in rural areas throughout Scotland, will recognise only too well.

They will be watching to see if this development succeeds. If it gives some pointers on how you keep communities sustainable. As well as fish farms.

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