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Nature / Building work begins at Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary

Cutting the turf for the new Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary are trustees Alice Bacon as well as Jan and Pete Bevington (centre) with Michael Leftwich of the SIC (left) and SCD director Frank Sinclair and SCD quantity surveyor Neil Grant.

AFTER many years of planning and fundraising, building work has finally begun developing and upgrading Shetland’s sole wildlife sanctuary.

The £400,000 project to create new facilities for seals and otters, which Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary has been rescuing and rehabilitating back to the wild for the past 33 years, will guarantee the long term future of the centre.

This week Shetland Construction and Developments Ltd (SCD), which won the contract for the building work last year, started preparing the foundations of the upgraded facilities, which will include a visitor centre and a seawater pumping system.

Almost three quarters of the funding for the project is coming from the Sullom Voe Association, which represents Shetland Islands Council and the islands’ energy industry, with most of the remainder being made available through the Shetland LEADER Programme 2014-2020.

Meanwhile international wildlife charity World Animal Protection is contributing £25,000 towards improving the sanctuary’s indoor seal unit, while Scottish charity J & JR Wilson Trust has put £3,000 towards the purchase of equipment.

Sanctuary founder Jan Bevington said: “I have been holding this vision of a well-built wildlife sanctuary in my heart ever since I rescued my first seal back in the summer of 1987.

“We have come a long way since that time, when I had to work with little more than watering cans and children’s paddling pools.

“Despite always operating on a shoestring, over the years we have managed to rescue hundreds of sick, injured and abandoned seals and otters and return them to the wild, and we have survived massive storms and a major oil spill.

“To witness work start on creating facilities that will stand the test of time and ensure Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary remains here for future generations really is a dream come true.”

Building work had been due to commence in April, but was held up when the pandemic lockdown came in on 23 March.

SCD director Frank Sinclair said: “We are delighted to be able to finally start work on this unique project after the last few months of enforced inactivity.

“Of course, we are disappointed to have lost the best part of the year for building work, but we are looking forward to the challenge in the weeks and months ahead of turning Jan’s vision into reality.”

Shetland Islands Council’s infrastructure director John Smith said: “The SVA and the SIC are very pleased to be able to support Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary’s efforts to ensure their work protecting Shetland’s iconic marine mammals can continue long into the future.”

Peter Kemple-Hardy, of World Animal Protection, said: “World Animal Protection has been supporting the valuable rescue work being carried out by the team at Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary for several years now as part of our Sea Change campaign.

“We are very much looking forward to seeing its seal unit transformed into a state of the art facility equipped to continue that work for many years to come.”

Sanctuary director Pete Bevington added: “We are extremely grateful to the funders and the builders for sticking with us for the many years it has taken for this vision of a well-built and fully resilient wildlife sanctuary to take shape.

“We would also like to thank the many kind and generous people in Shetland and around the world who actively support us, and without whom we would not be able to carry on this labour of love.

“With building work finally commencing, we can now look forward to the future and start preparing for the next generation of people to care for Shetland’s precious marine wildlife.”