A PROJECT to build Shetland’s world-renowned bird observatory has taken a step forward with a funding package totalling £2.35 million.

The £7.4m development, led by Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBOT), will create seven new green jobs, help to sustain the island’s population and meet the community’s aspirations to become carbon neutral by 2040.

It aims to create a sustainable and energy efficient building, using power from the island’s community-owned renewable energy grid as well as from the building’s own solar panels.

Confirmation of the funding package – from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Government – means one of the country’s most remote communities can look forward to a promising future as an eco-tourism destination.

READ MORE: David WC MacMillan says Nobel Prize success wouldn't have happened if he wasn't Scottish

The observatory was first established in 1948 and has played a vital role in sustaining the population of Fair Isle, which is currently at around 50. As well as being a popular visitor attraction, the observatory has had an important research role, gathering bird census and migration data for the past 70 years. It has close links to other organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland, which owns the remainder of the island.

The new premises will include 29 high-quality guest rooms for visitors and staff, with social space and facilities for research. It is hoped that construction on the island could

get under way in summer next year, and that the new observatory will be ready to welcome its first visitors in spring 2023.

Katrina Wiseman, interim area manager for HIE’s Shetland area team, said: “This project is of vital importance to Fair Isle bringing back a key income generating facility, providing employment, hosting visitors to the island, and providing world renowned research.

“The facility provides significant spin-off benefits for all Fair Isle businesses and the community. It will support the viability and sustainability of one of the most remote islands in the UK and at the same contribute to the net zero aims of those living on the island.”

Rural Affairs and Islands Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “The observatory has been an integral part of the community on Fair Isle for many years, and it’s absolutely fantastic that this funding has been secured to help the rebuild. The new building will support the economy of the island by creating jobs and providing a great base for visitors and researchers as well as contributing to our ambitions for carbon neutral islands as part of a fairer, greener Scotland.”