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Also in the news / Mareel test centre, New code for small fishing boats, Fibre optic survey, Porpoise watch project and more…

THE DRIVER and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has confirmed that Mareel will be the new site for people to sit their theory tests in Lerwick.

The Shetland Arts venue is being added to existing site at Mid Yell and Symbister.

Eyebrows were raised last month when the agency initially announced that tests could only be sat in Yell and Whalsay, but it later confirmed that a Lerwick based test centre would be added from 6 September after the agency changed suppliers.

A NEW Code of Practice for small fishing vessels (less than 15 metres in length), which includes a requirement for fishing boats to be inspected both in and out of the water every five years, has come into force.

Previously the requirement was only for fishing boats to be inspected in the water when first joining the UK ship register.

This is part of ongoing work by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to help reduce the number of deaths in the fishing industry which at 50 fishermen in every 100,000 losing their lives at work is 100 times higher than in the rest of the UK workforce.

The new code addresses crew protection and man overboard recovery, construction, watertight and weathertight integrity, stability, machinery, electrical installations and in and out of water inspections.

David Fenner, who heads up the fishing safety section at the MCA, said: “We know that the fishing industry faces a number of challenges to comply with this code but it’s been written so that responsible owners will already be complying with many aspects of it.

“Ultimately though, there have been too many deaths and we want to make sure we’ve done all we can to reduce that risk with an enforceable code. The sea is dangerous and we want to make sure we do all we can to protect those who work in it.”

The new code can be found here.

GEOPHYSICAL and geotechnical surveys to help determine subsea routes for new fibre optic cables in the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland have been completed.

The surveys by industry specialists Fugro and Global Marine will help determine subsea routes for 16 new fibre optic cables and 31 landing sites, all part of the Scottish Government’s R100 programme to bring superfast broadband to every community.

Following a number of setbacks and delays due to a legal challenge the R100 contract for the north of Scotland was finally signed in December last year.

Accurate integrated survey results of subsea routes should be available by the middle of October.

The Scottish Government’ R100 programme director Clive Downing: “Global Marine and Fugro have successfully mapped out the subsea routes through complex underwater and overhead surveys and this work is the first step in connecting islanders to faster broadband as part of the Scottish Government’s R100 programme for the North Lot contract area.”

Harbour porpoises. Photo: Charlie Philips

THE SHETLAND Community Wildlife Group is looking for volunteers to help researchers gather information on harbour porpoises, or neesiks as they are locally known.

This latest project, in collaboration with Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Shorewatch and NatureScot, encourages people to collect data on porpoise sightings in three survey sites known for attracting large aggregations of porpoise: South Nesting Bay, Mousa Sound and Quendale Bay.

SCWG coordinator at Shetland UHI Kate Allan said: “The Shetland porpoise survey along with WDC Shorewatch data and any reported one-off sightings will go a long way to helping fill some of the data gaps we currently have on porpoise numbers around the isles and will increase our understanding of where large groups congregate, at what time of year and for what purpose.”

Karen Hall of NatureScot added: “We know that signs of mating have been observed in these large aggregations and understanding when, where and why they form these large groups will aid in our understanding of this species.”

To get involved contact Kate Allan at shetlandcommunitywildlife@outlook.com or visit www.shetlandcommunitywildlife.org

HIGHLANDS and Islands Enterprise says a survey of businesses in the region is showing renewed optimism in the business community.

More than half (57 per cent) of businesses in the Highlands and Islands are now operating at pre-pandemic levels or beyond while two-thirds (67 per cent) have expressed confidence in the region’s economic outlook for the next 12 months.

However, almost half (44 per cent) of respondents perceived the UK’s exit from the European Union as having a negative impact on their business, while 11 per cent perceived this as positive.

Businesses in remote rural areas were more likely to cite location (51 per cent) and lack of accommodation as challenges (51 per cent).

More than a third of businesses also had concerns about there being fewer candidates to fill permanent (38 per cent) and temporary (33 per cent) vacancies. Decreases in workforce were more common among businesses in tourism (34 per cent) and creative industries (27 per cent), both of which have been among the hardest hit sectors.

HIE’s interim chief executive Carroll Buxton said: “We already know that the Highlands and Islands region has been disproportionately affected by both the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU.

“The early signs of recovery coming across in this survey reflect the high levels of innovation, flexibility and entrepreneurship that many of them have shown during the most trying of times”

THE MEN’s shed at Whalefirth, Yell, is one of ten across Scotland to benefit from the donation of an automated external defibrillator.

The Scottish Men’s Sheds Association (SMSA) received 44 member applications after teaming up with first aid training provider St Andrew’s First Aid to provide ten free defibrillators, usually retailing at £1,500 each.

Purchased with an outdoor cabinet the life saving equipment will be accessible to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Jim Dorman of St Andrew’s First Aid said: “Knowing that these vital pieces of equipment will be available to both members of the ten sheds and to the wider communities will hopefully bring considerable peace of mind.

“With every minute that passes following a cardiac arrest, the chance of survival drops by 10 per cent. Swift use of a defibrillator is all the difference needed to significantly increase a person’s chance of survival.”

Shetland News has provided a regularly updated map of all publicly accessible defibrillators in Shetland. It can be found here.

CROWN Estate Scotland has launched a new £3 million capital investment fund aiming to “deliver sustainable development, business diversification or regeneration of communities”.

The fund is in addition to the boat-based tourism fund closing 1 October and an innovation with natural resources scheme launching later this year.

Investment and sales programme director for Crown Estate Scotland Andy Wells said: “We’ve a strong commitment to help promote the green recovery across Scotland. By forming commercial partnerships with local organisations in this way, the voices and ambitions of communities can be firmly placed at the centre of the successful projects.”

Applicants will have until 10 December to make their initial applications. The full criteria and background information of the fund can be found here.