Fire destroys Shetland bird observatory

A fire has destroyed the bird observatory on Fair Isle in Shetland.

Firefighters were called to the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, which is located on the north east of the island, at about 11:20 on Sunday.

Extra firefighters were flown in from Sumburgh to tackle the flames after one local truck was sent to the scene.

But observatory president Roy Dennis said the building had been “lost to fire”, adding it was “absolutely tragic news”.

A family including two children who live in the flat adjoining the lodge were unhurt. There are no guests staying at the lodge for the winter season.

‘Colossal blow’

Mr Dennis said: “Thank goodness no loss of life but heartfelt sympathy to David, Susannah and family and the islanders. We will rebuild. We have lost much and will lose a year. Close to my heart – very very sad.”

And Shetland MSP Tavish Scott described it as a “colossal blow to the isle”.

Photographer Rob Fray was able to see a plume of smoke from the blaze from the Sumburgh Hotel in Shetland – approximately 30 miles across the water.

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

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.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said an additional two crews from Lerwick and one from Sandwick were flown in to join the operation.

Scientific research

The observatory is a popular tourist spot for bird watching and for scientific research into seabirds and bird migration.

Image copyright Fair Isle bird observatory
Image caption Fair Isle Bird Observatory (pictured in the background) records migration patterns

The observatory 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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