THE HILLSWICK Wildlife Sanctuary is marking 30 years of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing seals and otters back into the wild and launching a bid to secure its long-term future.
The sanctuary, run by Jan and Pete Bevington, has been offered an “amazing opportunity” after the local oil industry and Shetland Islands Council pledged up to £300,000 to refurbish, renovate and “future proof” the sanctuary for the next three decades.
But the investment depends on the sanctuary being able to prove that it can stand on its own two feet financially.
Built on “a foundation of love and sheer hard work”, the sanctuary has survived until now on a shoestring budget.
It is now looking for 500 people willing to pledge £5 a month, providing a regular income to cover day-to-day running costs.
If they are successful the refurbishment funds will be released – providing Shetland’s seals and otters with a safe haven for years to come.
“The facilities at Hillswick are desperate to be refurbished,” Jan and Pete said. “Over the last three years we have managed to persuade the oil industry and the council that we are worth investing in as part of Shetland’s oil spill response plan for wildlife.
“However before they can invest such a large sum of money, they need reassurance that the sanctuary can sustain itself into the future.
“This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss, so we’re reaching out to our thousands of friends and followers in Shetland and around the world for help. If ever we needed your support, it’s now.”
Malcolm Bell, SIC councillor and chairman of the Sullom Voe Association representing the local authority and the oil and gas industry in the islands, said: “Wildlife is one of Shetland’s main attractions for local people and visitors alike, and it’s important that we do all we can to protect it.
“Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary plays a critical role in Shetland’s oil spill response plan and Jan and Pete have presented a powerful case for this major investment in the sanctuary’s facilities.
“However there is no point investing this money if the sanctuary can’t sustain itself financially into the future, so we have asked for an assurance that this is achievable.”
SIC infrastructure director Maggie Sandison said: “We appreciate the sanctuary’s facilities are in need of refurbishment and would really like to help.
“We have listened to Jan and Pete’s proposals and are satisfied that if they can reach their fundraising target from their own supporters, we can justify this investment.”
The sanctuary began in May 1987 when Jan picked up an abandoned common seal on the beach outside her home in Hillswick. Since then the sanctuary has rescued hundreds of seals and otters.
It played a key role in the response to the 1993 Braer oil spill, taking in 37 seals and 11 otters, as well as 387 volunteers who came to help.
HWS is a member of the wildlife response coordinating committee that maintains Shetland’s “gold standard” oil spill response plan for the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG).