Plans to rebuild bird observatory delayed by pandemic

The Fair Isle Bird Observatory was hit by a devastating blaze in 2019 and a £7.4m rebuild was due to begin this year.

Plans to rebuild bird observatory delayed by pandemic Email

Plans to rebuild a world-renowned bird observatory on a remote island after it was destroyed by a fire have been hampered by the pandemic.

The Fair Isle Bird Observatory was razed to the ground in a blaze in March 2019, with plans for a £7.4m rebuild project due to start this year.

But the charity behind the observatory has been forced to return to the drawing board after just one company submitted a tender to carry out the work, which was millions of pounds over budget.

The Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBOT) has now made its only two members of paid staff redundant, after running an £80,000 deficit last year.

The trust said the rebuild had been hindered by the coronavirus pandemic, and is set to review building options, which will require a redesign and a new tendering process.

They hope a new building could be open by 2023.

An observatory has been on the island since 1948 and is internationally renowned for the scientific research into seabirds and bird migration carried out there.

Since 2011 the centre has been run by David and Susannah Parnaby from Aberdeenshire

As the observatory’s warden and administrator, they have been a mainstay ever since, coordinating vital research while raising their young family.

But faced with further delays to the rebuild, the trust has announced that the couple are to be made redundant.

In a statement, FIBOT explained: “We ran a £80,000 deficit in 2020, primarily reflecting ongoing staff costs and minimal income, which is clearly unsustainable.

“We are no different to any other organisation or charity in that, without income, we cannot survive.

“While we aim to maintain our core mission, we are now forced to make changes in how we operate in the short-term.”

Douglas Barr, chair of the trust, added: “For David and Susannah, who have worked for us for ten years, we fully appreciate the pain and difficulties these circumstances and our decisions will present.”

David and Susannah Parnaby said: “Fair Isle is a very special place.

“We’ve met so many lovely people through working at the observatory, and it’s been a privilege to contribute to the significant ornithological work carried out on Fair Isle.

“The work of the observatory is very important.

“We hope to see that work continue, we want to see a positive future for the isle, and we support the ambition that the observatory will be part of that.”

Since the observatory was devastated by the blaze in March 2019, the trust has launched a crowdfunding appeal to help meet the cost of a replacement facility.

The campaign has raised £543,000 of its £650,000 target to date.

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