HILLSWICK Wildlife Sanctuary is celebrating after the final piece in a complex funding jigsaw fell into place late on Wednesday to allow the charity to go ahead with a six-figure upgrade to its animal care facilities.
A grant of almost £100,000 of European money, awarded by the LEADER fund’s Local Action Group, will help to secure the long-term future of the sanctuary.
The funding will supplement an earlier award of £310,000 from the Sullom Voe Association, which represents the Shetland oil industry and the local authority.
A delighted Jan Bevington, who founded the sanctuary more than 30 years ago, said late on Wednesday evening that the funding would allow her to leave “a legacy for Shetland, its future generations and its wonderful wildlife”.
She added: “We are absolutely delighted to have won the support of the local folk that sit on the LEADER board after a very long process of submitting and then refining our bid.
“Their support means we can finally proceed with a major building programme that will allow us to realise our long held vision of first class facilities to care for Shetland’s marine mammals.
“We could not have got this far without the backing of Shetland Islands Council, the local oil industry, and especially all the wonderfully kind and generous people who are supporting our work with regular and one off donations.
“We would especially like to thank the members of the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group, SOTEAG, with whom this whole plan began five years ago.”
Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary hopes to build on its current fundraising programme so that it will be able to employ people to keep the sanctuary going well into the future.
“We can now create a wildlife sanctuary which Shetland can be proud of, including a visitor centre that will allow us to provide a much more interesting experience for the growing number of visitors that come to Hillswick every year,” Jan added.
The sanctuary began life in 1987 when Jan came across an abandoned seal on a beach at Hillswick.
They went on to play a major part in the response to the Braer oil spill in 1993, with the sanctuary taking in 37 seals and 11 otters and receiving the help of nearly 400 volunteers.
Jan and her husband Pete have been kept busy ever since, helping in the rescue of stranded whales, saving seals caught in fishing line, rescuing abandoned otter cubs and campaigning on wildlife conservation issues.
A video animation of what the new Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary is going to look like is embedded above.