Blow for Fair Isle as observatory rebuild halted


In a disappointing setback, work on the much-anticipated Fair Isle Bird Observatory rebuild has been halted, after the contractors announced they were considering going into administration.

The Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust has now stated that the reopen won't take place later this year as planned. Builders Lighthouse/IDMH have lodged a notice to appoint an administrator and have stopped working at the site, with the £7.4m restoration now on hold.

The previous building was destroyed by fire in March 2019. The new facility was being constructed on the same site, after an initial £2.35m funding package from the Scottish government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

 The new observatory building as of December 2023, before work stopped (Fair Isle Bird Observatory).

These stages are expected to take several months, before the final phase of the rebuild can take place in what is planned to be late 2024. The previous building was destroyed by a fire in 2019.


Frustrating setback

Douglas Barr, chairman of the trust, said the latest setback was "particularly frustrating" because the building is now "wind and watertight".

Work was under way to complete the internal works, which were scheduled to be finished this autumn. Mr Barr said the contractors are not yet in administration but "are considering their options on how they go forward as a company".

"Before we able to continue, there are a number of legal, financial and practical issues that will have to be attended to," he added. "This means that unfortunately we will not be reopening this year."


Further delays

The project has suffered weather-related delays when transporting the building's modular units to the island.

The rebuild had initially been planned for 2022 following the devastating fire five years ago. Despite positive sounds coming out from the island at the end of 2023 regarding the rebuild – in the same year in which it was announced Fair Isle will receive a new ferry as part of the UK government's Levelling Up Fund, which could see a Ro-Ro service operate to the island for the first time – the return of the famous observatory is now unclear.