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Shetland author’s joy as Fair Isle Bird Observatory promised £2m to rebuild after blaze

© David HirstAuthor Ann Cleeves
Author Ann Cleeves

Shetland author Ann Cleeves is thrilled that Fair Isle Bird Observatory is to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire two years ago.

It was revealed last week that the Scottish Government and Highlands & Islands Enterprise will provide £2.35 million towards the £7.4m cost of creating a new research centre on the island, between Shetland and Orkney.

Cleeves is patron of the internationally renowned observatory trust, which attracted visitors from around the world prior to the 2019 blaze, and she has been part of the fundraising efforts to re-establish the centre.

An artist’s impression of new observatory

The bestselling writer, who also created Vera, first travelled to Fair Isle 46 years ago to take up a job at the observatory, which has recorded 388 bird species since it opened in 1948.

She met her late husband, Tim, on that first trip and he proposed to her there the following summer. Cleeves remains a frequent visitor to Fair Isle, which is home to puffin colonies, and it inspired one of her most famous series of novels. “I’m absolutely delighted that Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust has achieved the funding it needs,” she told The Sunday Post.

“I know the contractors have been in to the Isle to meet the locals and to check out the site. I understand they have already experienced some of the weather that will make this project such a challenge!

“The government funding has made a huge difference to the speed of the build but I’d like to thank all the individuals who have donated too. I’m continuing my fundraising – the observatory will still need support even once the building is complete.

“And if you’d like to help, and you would like a quick virtual visit to the islands before the new series of Shetland appears on our screens, I’m donating all royalties from the novel Blue Lightning to the trust.”

The ambitious project is led by Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust and is designed by Inverness-based Colin Armstrong Architects.

While the building will mostly be constructed off-site, it is hoped work on the island could get under way next summer, subject to planning consent, and the new observatory could welcome its first visitors in 2023.