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Jan to receive animal welfare award

Jan Bevington caring for a selkie at Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary.

A WILDLIFE enthusiast in Shetland is to receive a special award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) recognising her many years of dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating injured or abandoned marine creatures. 

Jan Bevington, 67, who runs the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, has been caring for sick animals in the islands for more than 27 years. 

She rescued her first seal in May 1987 after finding it stranded on the beach in front of her house in Hillswick.

At the time she could not find anyone in Shetland who knew how to look after a motherless seal pup, so she contacted the seal sanctuary in Gweek, Cornwall to find out what to do.

As a result she established the sanctuary to look after sick, injured and abandoned seals and otters in Shetland. By that September she was caring for seven seal pups brought to her by local people.

It was at that point that she realised she had found her life’s work. From then on people started bringing in all kinds of wild creatures, but her main love from the start was seals, cetaceans and otters.

After severe storms in October 1991, almost 100 grey seal pups were left stranded on nearby shores. With help from volunteers, Jan saved 45 of them, though the sheer number of animals involved meant that many had to be flown south to other sanctuaries.

On 5 January 1993 disaster struck when the Braer oil tanker ran aground at Garth’s ness on the southern tip of the isles, spilling 85,000 tonnes of crude oil into the sea.

A huge rescue operation for Shetland’s wildlife was put into operation: animal welfare groups and volunteers from all over the world descended on Jan’s sanctuary, which became the response centre for oiled seals and otters.

Otter cubs Joey and Thea were taken into the sanctuary's care last month.

With financial resources now available and along with a small army of volunteers, emergency facilities were swiftly put in place to receive victims of the spill. In total 37 seals and nine otters were treated. Sadly only two otters survived, but all but one seal survived.

IFAW president and CEO Azzedine Downes said: “Jan’s dedication has seen her rescue countless marine mammals over the years and she is a great example of animal welfare in action. She is a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Marine Rescue award.”

The Braer disaster created a platform for Jan to devote herself entirely to caring for wildlife, and she opened a vegetarian café at her home to raise funds for the sanctuary.

Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary is now a registered Scottish charity and continues to look after sick, injured and abandoned marine wildlife.

Jan said: “I was completely taken aback when I heard about this award. I just do this work for the love of it; it’s an honour to have been nominated and for Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary to receive such recognition.”

She helps coordinate rescues when whales or dolphins strand on the islands’ coastline. She is also part of Shetland’s wildlife response coordinating committee, set up to respond to major pollution incidents.

Jan is now trying to raise funds to upgrade all of the sanctuary’s facilities, especially with the current oil and gas boom in Shetland creating a new pollution threat.

She will receive her award at IFAW’s prestigious Animal Action Awards event, hosted by Baroness Gale and presented by TV wildlife presenter Bill Oddie at the House of Lords on 21 October.