THE ANIMAL welfare charity Scottish SPCA has confirmed it plans to close its wildlife rescue unit in Shetland at the end of February.
Wednesday’s announcement follows a statement last week that the future of the unit was under review that caused alarm in wildlife circles in the isles.
The wildlife unit was built 20 years ago in the wake of the Braer oil disaster with a £90,000 donation from oil company BP and forms a key element of the islands oil spill response plan.
However last year the SSPCA built a £3.5 million national wildlife rescue centre in Fishcross, Clackmanannshire, where they want animals to be sent from throughout Scotland.
SSPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said animals needing short term care would continue to be looked after in Shetland.
But any creatures needing longer term treatment or specialist rehabilitation would be transported 350 miles to central Scotland.
Flynn said the Shetland unit cost £13,000 a year to run, but last year only released ten birds back into the wild.
“We hope that the local community understands and agrees that it makes sense to care for relatively minor wildlife casualties locally and to make full use of our new facilities for wild animals requiring specialist care and long-term rehabilitation,” he said.
An SSPCA spokeswoman said that in the event of an oil spill they would set up temporary facilities to pre-wash birds before sending them to Fishcross, where they can handle up to 1,000 oiled birds.
Jan Bevington, who looks after sick, injured and abandoned seals and otters at Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary in the north of the islands, said she had been alarmed at the announcement.
However she had been reassured by the SSPCA that they would continue to send seals and otters to be looked after at Hillswick.
“For the past 20 years since the Gott wildlife recue unit was built we have had an excellent relationship with the SSPCA, so this decision has come as a complete bolt out of the blue,” she said.
“It sounded as if the SSPCA planned to ship out any rescued seals or otters and take them down to the central belt, but Mike Flynn has now assured me that will not happen.
“Shetland’s common seal population is on the decline and the Shetland otter has a unique genetic make up, and we really do not feel that any creatures should be forced to leave these islands.”
The SSPCA spokeswoman said that as far as she was aware they would continue to use the Hillswick sanctuary.
She added that the charity would make sure there was a temporary shelter for rescued animals in Shetland, though she did not know where that would be.
The charity said they had yet to decide what they would be doing with the existing building at Gott.
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