A LAST ditch effort to save Shetland’s popular wildlife rescue unit from being closed by animal welfare charity SSPCA is being launched amid fears for the fate of local wildlife.
Public agencies and the oil industry are deeply concerned that closing the unit at Gott which they largely paid for 20 years ago will blow a gaping hole in plans to deal with any future oil spill.
The SSPCA unexpectedly announced last December they were closing the unit built in the wake of the 1993 Braer oil disaster.
The charity said they could not justify the £13,000 a year it cost to run the unit, which only handled 10 birds in 2012 and in future injured or oiled birds would be sent to their new £3.5 million centre at Fishcross, Clackmannanshire.
However the Sullom Voe Association representing Shetland Islands Council and the oil industry, which paid three quarters of the £117,000 building cost, are furious they were not approached before the closure decision was made.
SVA director and local councillor Alastair Cooper said the SSPCA’s approach was “incredulous”.
He said: “We believed the facility was here to provide a first response in the event of a pollution incident.
“We always thought the SSPCA was fully behind us and I can’t believe they have taken this facility away.”
Ornithologist Martin Heubeck, of the Shetland Oil Terminal Environment Advisory Group (SOTEAG), said the wildlife unit was an integral part of the islands’ contingency plan for dealing with an oil spill.
He said it was recognised during the Braer emergency that it was vital to have a unit locally to look after oiled birds before sending them to the UK mainland for longer term care.
“Before we had this facility any oiled birds were basically killed on the beaches. We realised this was an unacceptable approach, which is why this unit was built.
“If we lose it the SSPCA will have to cobble together some sort of facility such as we did during the Braer in the event of a spill. That was not very successful, so this is a major loss.”
He added that any “dribs and drabs” of oiled birds that came in at other times from minor incidents would probably have to be killed, as it would be more humane than sending them south.
Cooper said he was angry that the SSPCA did not approach their partners at SOTEAG and the SVA before making their decision.
“They should have come to Shetland, had a dialogue and asked how we can meet that 13,000 cost, and I think the Shetland community would have risen to the challenge,” he said.
“But there was no discussion whatsoever, they just came in and decided to close it.”
He said SOTEAG would be asking the SSPCA board to mothball the building so that it could be reactivated in the event of a major pollution incident, and would be raising the matter with the local MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Tavish Scott as a matter of urgency.
However SSPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said it was too late for any rescue bid and that no mention had been made of saving the centre when he met SOTEAG earlier this week.
“The decision has been made and the wheels are rolling,” he said.
“This was announced at the end of the year. We didn’t just announce it on Monday and close it on Tuesday and the first I have heard of a potential rescue bid, if that’s what they want to call it, is now.”
He added that in future any oiled birds would be stabilised on the islands before being sent down to the Fishcross centre, as was done with similar cases elsewhere in Scotland such as the Clyde and the Firth of Forth.
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