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Community / Money worries behind ‘extremely difficult’ decision to make bird observatory staff redundant

The original plans for the new Fair Isle bird observatory.

THE DIRECTORS of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust say financial pressure was behind their decision to make its two permanent members of staff redundant.

Earlier this week David and Susannah Parnaby confirmed that they were being let go from the observatory after 10 years in their roles.

This morning (Friday) Shetland News also revealed that plans to build a new £7.4 million observatory following’s 2019 fire had stalled after a tender for the work came back too expensive, with the trust now reviewing its options.

It meant that a new observatory may not open until at least 2023.

In a statement released today the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust said this delay has compounded matters and has forced the charity into making changes in how it operates in the short-term.

“The fire and its aftermath inevitably imposed major financial challenges on the trust,” the trust said.

“The observatory building was our main source of income, which allowed us to employ staff and carry out our ornithological work. Following the fire, we did not take the decision, as many businesses would likely have done, to immediately close our doors, make all our staff redundant, and reopen once we have a new observatory.

“Rather, despite the reduced workload, we continued to employ our staff and carry out our ornithological work as far as feasible, calculating that we could withstand resulting short-term financial losses.

“Now, the unsuccessful tender and resulting major delay in re-opening obliges us to urgently review our operational and financial situation. We ran a £80,000 deficit in 2020, primarily reflecting ongoing staff costs and minimal observatory income, which is clearly unsustainable. We are no different to any other organisation or charity in that, without income, we cannot survive.

“Regrettably, in what has been an extremely difficult decision which has not been taken lightly or without considerable discussion, we will have to make our warden (David Parnaby) and administrator (Susannah Parnaby) redundant.

“Furthermore, we will not have any paid staff after 31st July 2021 for the foreseeable future. Despite considerable efforts, we have been unable to find alternative solutions that would ensure our solvency and survival as a trust.”

The Parnabys after the fire in 2019. Image: BBC Radio Shetland

Chairman Douglas Barr said: “For our warden and administrator, David and Susannah Parnaby, who have worked for us for ten years, we fully appreciate the pain and difficulties these circumstances and our decisions will present.

“We thank them for all their hard work on behalf of FIBOT, which has underpinned our successful operation on Fair Isle, and integration into the community, over the last decade”.

David and Susannah Parnaby commented: “Fair Isle is a very special place; we’ve met so many lovely people through working at the Obs and it’s been a privilege to contribute to the significant ornithological work carried out on Fair Isle.

“The work of the observatory is very important; we hope to see that work continue, we want to see a positive future for the isle, and we support the ambition that FIBO will be part of that.

“We also feel it is important to point out that the directors are all volunteers who have taken on a huge commitment with the rebuild project.”

The trust said it remains fully committed to building a new observatory on Fair Isle and “we have no doubt that we will succeed”.

It said it hugely appreciates all contributions to its £650,000 public appeal to date which aimed to plug a funding shortfall for the new build.

“The appeal remains open and active, and all donations are ring-fenced for rebuilding the observatory as specified in the appeal criteria, with zero expenditure from this fund to date,” the trust said.

“Meanwhile, we will endeavour to continue our core ornithological work on Fair Isle as far as circumstances permit until we can fully re-open.

“We look forward to the continued support of all our long-standing friends through these extremely difficult times to help us ensure the next decades of ornithology, visitors and investment on Fair Isle.”