Fair Isle Bird Observatory is run by an independent charity, Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (Registered Charity No. SCO 11160), which owns the building and a small area of land, although we have close links to other organisations, such as the National Trust for Scotland, which owns the remainder of the island.
The current Directors (June 2020) are: Douglas Barr (Chairman), David Okill (Vice-Chairman), Mike Wood (Director of Finance), Ian Andrews, Alexander Bennett, Mark Bolton, Ian Cowgill, Pete Ellis, Karen Hall, Paul Harvey, Fiona Mitchell, Jane Reid and Kerri Whiteside. Roy Dennis is our Honorary President.
Short Biographies of FIBOT Directors
David Okill was born on the Wirral, quite a long time ago, and has had a life-long interest in wildlife. Fascinated in ringing from early age, he qualified for his first permit with the Merseyside RG in his early teens. He qualified in Public Health at Liverpool University. He first visited FIBO in 1971 and moved to Shetland to work as an environmental health officer for Shetland Islands Council in 1975 and was heavily involved in the aftermath of the 1993 Braer oil spill. Gillian and David married in 1981 and they have one son. In 1995, David set up the Lerwick office for SEPA, which he managed until he retired. He was a founder member of the Shetland Ringing Group, became the BTO RR for Shetland (and has been involved in organising enquires such as the Atlas and the Peregrine Survey) and is a long time committee member/trustee on FIBOT, Shetland Bird Club, Shetland Environmental Group and SOTEAG. He has published, with others, a number of papers on birds especially Red-throated Diver, Merlin, Storm Petrel, Gannet etc. He was one of the seven co-authors of The Birds of Shetland. He's been involved in GPS tracking studies of Red-throated Divers and Red-necked Phalaropes. He has been on ringing and/or birding expeditions to many countries around the world.
Mike Wood's birding kicked off with visits to Eric Ennion's Monks House in the late 1950s, working at Minsmere with Bert Axell in 1960 and being one of the initial members of the Tyneside Bird Club in the early 1960s. Many years working for Honeywell in Europe and America in the 1970s and 1980s were combined with birding unusual places. Mike first visited Fair Isle in 1981 and has been back most years since with his wife Angela and daughters. He hit the birding jackpot by finding Europe's first Rufous-tailed Robin in October 2004. His favourite birding locations (other than Fair Isle) are Holy Island and the Northumberland coast, Teesmouth, the northern Pennines, Falsterbo, Lapland and the Varangerfjord. Mike is a lifelong supporter of Sunderland, the Stadium of Light being the only Premier League ground where the birding is often better than the football.
Fiona Mitchell lives and works on Fair Isle, the only islander on the board of FIBOT directors. Having moved to Fair Isle as a child, Fiona grew up on the isle and on leaving school returned home to work at the Observatory, whilst waiting to enter general nurse training. Fiona felt it was a great place to start her working life, although a short spell as kitchen assistant and occasional cook proved too much for guests - tales were reportedly heard at Kirkwall Airport that Fiona's treacle tart would have benefited from a drill or similar to remove it from the baking tray and that dental repairs might be necessary! Fiona returned to the isle in 1993 following a career in nursing and respite care management. She now runs the Fair Isle shop and Post Office with her husband Robert, teaches art at the school and is the Community Councillor for Fair Isle. Former nursing skills have been swopped for fire fighter skills and Fiona is now the Watch Manager for the local retained fire unit. You'll see her most at the Fair Isle Airstrip undertaking duties as an aircraft fire fighter and supervisor.
Pete Ellis is originally from Yorkshire, where he was a young member of the Wharfedale Naturalists Society. He did his BSc in Zoology at Aberdeen University. Pete worked for RSPB Scotland for over 37 years, 33 of these in Shetland and retired as their Northern Isles Manager in December 2016. He is particularly interested in breeding raptors, especially Merlins and breeding waders, as well as migrants and rarities. He is Chair of the Zetland Raptor Study Group. Pete was a co-author of The Birds of Shetland. He is a past member of the British Birds Rarities Committee, Scottish Rarities Committee and Shetland Rarities Committee. Pete has worked as a volunteer bird surveyor for the Royal Society for Nature Conservation in Jordan since 2000. He is married with two grown-up children.
Jane Reid first visited Fair Isle aged 14 and has been addicted ever since. She has found various excuses to return, including as a long-term volunteer and assistant warden, a PhD student and more recently as a visiting researcher and Director. She enjoys combining her enthusiasms for birding and ringing with her professional interest and expertise in ecological research. She is now a professor of population and evolutionary ecology at the University of Aberdeen, with interests in understanding the long-term dynamics of bird populations. She is currently leading efforts to analyse FIBO's long-term migration census data and reveal how Fair Isle's migrant birds really have changed over the past half-century.
Alexander Bennett qualified as a Chartered Surveyor and joined the National Trust for Scotland as a building surveyor in 1979. Originally working in Edinburgh, he moved to Inverness in 1985 as Factor for their Highlands and Islands region where he has worked on many projects including the Culloden Battlefield Memorial Project, Balmacara, St Kilda and Glencoe. Laterally he was General Manager Countryside and Islands North, where he had special responsibilities for the Trust's island properties of Canna, St Kilda, Fair Isle, Canna, Iona, Mingulay, Shieldaig and Unst. He has now retired which gives him time to pursue his many diverse interests include hill walking, cycling, fitness, gardening, bird watching, the family and the cultural, social and natural history of the Highlands and Islands.
Douglas Barr is a solicitor, unfortunately with his own business in the depths of Lanarkshire. A lifelong birder who has travelled extensively in the Western Palearctic and has a particularly keen interest in his Scottish list. He has previously served on the RSPB Scottish Council and first visited Fair Isle in the 1990s. He has since returned frequently, being smitten by the delights of witnessing the marvels of migration on the isle. A long suffering Motherwell FC fan, he finds Fair Isle the perfect antidote to that.
Mark Bolton has a passion for islands and first visited Fair Isle in 1993 when working in Shetland studying the ecology of Storm Petrels. Since then he has worked as warden of the A Rocha Bird Observatory in Southern Portugal, and as visiting research fellow at the University of Azores, where he was involved in the discovery of a species new to science - Monteiro's Storm Petrel. Since 2002 he has worked in the RSPB's Conservation Science Department, and has led their UK marine research programme since 2008 with occasional forays into the UK's South Atlantic Overseas Territories. In 2010 he came back to Fair Isle to begin a programme of seabird GPS tracking and was astounded to find that Razorbills and Guillemots were regularly travelling over 300 km to the Aberdeenshire coast in search of food for their young. He was delighted to be invited to become a Director of FIBO the following year, particularly to help direct ongoing seabird monitoring and research. Although based in Bedfordshire, he needs little excuse to travel back each year to one of his all-time favourite locations!
Ian Cowgill is married to Lynn and hails from Nottinghamshire. He ceased work with Nottinghamshire County Council in 2010, where he spent 25 years employed as a project manager in highway engineering. He is an avid birder and visits his local patch, Lound gravel pits, every day. His first visit to Fair Isle was in the autumn of 1996, with the aim of seeing the islands speciality birds. The trip was so successful that he has returned to the island as frequently as possible ever since, drawn back as much by the island and its friendly residents as its remarkable birds. When he's not birding, he enjoys watching all sport, and he says he has been trying to improve his snooker for the past 40 years. Lynn and he have recently taken over stewardship of the FIBO stand at the annual British Birdfair at Rutland Water.
Ian Andrews is a recently-retired geologist and has also been an active birder continuously for 45 years. His early birding years were spent in Kent, but he moved to Scotland in 1979 - the year after his first visit to Fair Isle. He has been based in Musselburgh with his wife, Jill, for many years, but together they spent three exciting years in Jordan in 1989-92. Locally, he did a stint at being local bird recorder and is currently co-editor of the local bird report. He has been heavily involved with the SOC since 1999, setting up their first website soon after; he was Club President for 2 years, a lead editor of The Birds of Scotland published in 2007 and has been co-ordinating editor of the journal Scottish Birds since 2009. He is a member of the group which organised and is now writing-up the South-east Scotland Bird Atlas, taking responsibility for databases and mapping. His birding interests lie in patch birding, with the spice of finding something unusual, and he enjoys occasional forays overseas.
Karen Hall is a marine adviser for Scottish Natural Heritage based in Lerwick with her main specialism being marine mammals. She's often heard muttering the refrain 'I don't do birds' but somehow during her time with SNH, knowledge of Shetland's birds has sunk in and she can just about hold her own on seabirds and waders (just don't ask anything challenging!). Karen coordinates the annual Grey Seal pupping surveys in Shetland and sits on the SOTEAG monitoring committee. She also coordinates retrieval, transport and sample taking from dead cetaceans for SMASS and has become quite the expert in identifying decomposing marine mammals! Karen has had a long history with Fair Isle and the Obs having worked closely with Nick Riddiford and FIMETI over many years to try and achieve more marine protection for the isle. Finally in November 2016 Fair Isle was designated as Scotland's first Demonstration and Research and the exciting process has begun of using that designation to its fullest. In her spare time, Karen does regular sea watches (from her living room window in Levenwick) and has been known to drop everything for her version of a twitch whilst her son complains 'Not another Killer Whale, mum'.
Kerri Whiteside lives in Edinburgh and currently works for the global conservation charity Fauna & Flora International as the Marine Community Support Officer for Scotland. She took up this position in June 2014 to lead on a new project which supports grassroots action on marine conservation across Scotland's coast. Prior to this Kerri worked full-time, for several years, for Ulster Wildlife as their Living Seas Community Engagement Officer. Her conservation career did in fact begin with birds - first starting off volunteering for the RSPB where she worked on the Belfast Harbour Reserve and within the Planning team. It was when she snorkelled in Fiji in her early twenties, and then came home and learnt how to dive in the slightly colder Irish Sea(!), that she discovered how truly fascinating the ocean is. Kerri originally graduated with a BA Honours in Politics from Queens University Belfast in 2009 and then later completed an MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Rural Development, which she studied part-time after receiving a scholarship from the Gibson Institute for Land, Food and Environment. She is passionate about the power of local action and community solutions and has a range of volunteering experience working in community support. Kerri first visited Fair Isle in the summer of 2014 to begin work supporting the community's proposal for a Marine Protected Area - ever since she has visited the isle several times each year and always surprises herself by being able to look forward to the next visit even more than the last!
Paul Harvey left his native Dorset to become an assistant warden at FIBO in 1984, fell in love with Shetland and has lived there ever since. He returned to the Observatory as an AW in 1985 and then as Warden from 1989 to 1992, with his partner Elizabeth and their three lasses. A spell with Scottish Natural Heritage from 1993 to 2001 saw him take charge of Shetland's three National Nature Reserves and get to know more about the islands, mammals, plants and moths, before moving to his current position with Shetland Amenity Trust where he is the project officer for natural heritage and manages the Shetland Biological Records Centre. He was a co-author of The Birds of Shetland and Rare Plants of Shetland. Paul has served on the British Ornithologist's Union Records Committee and British Birds Rarities Committee and although he enjoys all aspects of our natural heritage still gets the biggest buzz from finding a rarity.
Roy Dennis. I arrived on Fair Isle at the end of March 1959 to be an assistant warden at the Observatory with Peter Davis; it was a dream come true and from that year my love of Fair Isle has never ceased. I returned with my wife to run the Observatory from October 1963 to December 1970. It was a magical time; working with one of the mentors of my life, George Waterston (the founder of FIBOT); fantastic memories of bird migrations, rare birds and rapidly increasing seabird populations, plus the exciting release of young White-tailed Eagles in 1968, the building of the 'new' Observatory in 1969 and the arrivals of our three children. I served for many years on FIBOT, was Chairman of the trust for 16 years until 2010, during which time we turned FIBOT round from a deficit to a secure future and am now its President. When I left Fair Isle, I joined George as the RSPB's senior officer in Northern Scotland. In 1990 I left to become an independent wildlife specialist and started the Highland Foundation for Wildlife. My great interest is as a specialist in raptor conservation and bird and mammal reintroductions in the UK and abroad, having been involved with Osprey, Red Kite, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Beaver and Red Squirrel reintroduction projects, and my satellite-tracking studies since 1999 have broken new ground and given great interest to the public via a map-based website. In 1992 I was awarded a MBE for services to nature conservation in Scotland and in 2004 was voted the RSPB Golden Eagle Award winner for the person who had done most for nature conservation in Scotland in the last 100 years. I now live in Moray, with my local patch being Findhorn Bay and my dream is to see the Lynx return to Scotland.