AN OFFER by animal welfare charity Scottish SPCA to keep Shetland’s wildlife rescue unit open to be used in the event of an oil spill has received a mixed response.
The SSPCA has come under heavy criticism over the past few weeks for its decision to close the wildlife unit in Gott at the end of February, saying they could not justify the cost of keeping it open.
On Monday an online petition with more than 2,100 signatures calling on the SSPCA to reopen the unit or hand it over to the local community was handed in to the charity.
The unit was built following the 1993 Braer oil spill as a core element of Shetland’s acclaimed oil spill contingency plan, coordinated by the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG).
SOTEAG have been especially critical of the SSPCA’s decision to close the unit, and has urged the organisation to reconsider.
On Tuesday SSPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn announced they had now offered SOTEAG first option to buy or lease the building at its current value.
SOTEAG chairman Mike Richardson said he had only received the offer that morning, but considered it “rather curious we are being asked to buy a property for which we provided three quarters of the finance”.
SOTEAG’s parent body Sullom Voe Association Ltd (SVA) gifted £84,000 towards the £117,000 cost of the unit, which was purpose built to pre-wash oiled birds in the event of an oil spill.
Flynn said: “We believe SOTEAG buying or leasing and taking responsibility for the building would be an ideal solution and we are awaiting their response.
“We have been clear that the Scottish SPCA will continue to have staff on Shetland to rescue sick and injured wildlife.
“Otters and seals will still be taken in by Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary as usual and, where possible, other animals will be cared for on the island and released when they are fit and healthy.
“We have stressed to SOTEAG that our role is to investigate and prevent cruelty, rehome animals and rescue animals in danger, not to pay to keep a building open in case there is an oil spill on behalf of an oil industry which makes multi-billion pound profits.
“If SOTEAG believe the unit needs to be kept open they have the opportunity to consider our offer to either lease or buy the building at the price it is valued at.”
He added that the Shetland unit released 14 birds last year, but has cost the organisation £250,000 to operate since 1993, and animals would stand a much better chance of survival if they were sent to the charity’s new £3.5 million wildlife rescue centre in Clackmannanshire.
Jan Bevington, of Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, who organised the online petition to keep the Shetland wildlife unit open, said she was pleased the SSPCA were considering alternatives to closure.
“I am not sure how the SVA will react to the idea of buying or leasing a building they have already paid for, especially when it is likely to be valued at twice the price it originally cost,” she said.
“However what is paramount is that Shetland has such a unit, especially with the current oil and gas boom up here, no matter how much it costs or who pays for it.
“I personally do not want to have to go through an experience like the Braer again without such a facility in place.”
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