Fair Isle Bird Observatory & Guesthouse

Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBOT)

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.

FIBOT directors
The FIBOT Board of Directors and staff (June 2014): Roger Riddington (out-going Chairman), Peter Evans, Pete Ellis, Eric Meek (Chairman), Ian Andrews, Fiona Mitchell, Louise Batchelor, Mike Wood (Director of Finance), Alexander Bennett (NTS), Mark Bolton, Dave Okill (Vice-Chairman), Douglas Barr, Ian Cowgill, Susannah Parnaby (Administrator). [Roy Dennis (Honorary President), Jane Reid and David Parnaby (Warden) were not present]

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.

Peter Evans studied for his first degree in Zoology, Botany and Genetics at the University of Aberdeen (1976) from which he moved to the University of Oxford, where he completed a DPhil in avian population genetics (1980), followed by research into population genetics of birds and mammals. He moved to North Wales in 2007 and has been an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the School of Ocean Sciences ever since. He has worked on marine mammals for 40 years and oversees the UK national cetacean monitoring scheme, Sea Watch Foundation. He is working, or has worked, with the European Cetacean Society, the UK Mammal Society, the RSPCA Scientific Advisory Board and the UK Seabird Group. He is currently on the advisory panel of several international marine and oceanographic organisations and has published on various aspects of marine mammal and bird ecology, genetics, and conservation. He has maintained a long-term population study on Starlings in Fair Isle since 1980.

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.

Louise Batchelor first visited Fair Isle in 1995 when she was the Environment Correspondent for BBC Scotland. It was the start of a long relationship with the Isle. In 2008 she left BBC Scotland, after 30 years, to go freelance and specialise in conference work and communications. As BBC Scotland's Environment and Transport Correspondent (1994-2008), Louise twice won British Environment and Media Awards. Other activities include chairing the media sub-group of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland and helping to manage her local community woodlands around Scotlandwell, Kinross-shire. Music and dance play a big part in her life and she's a cellist in Stirling Orchestra.

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 has worked for RSPB Scotland for over 35 years, 31 of these in Shetland and is now the Northern Isles Manager covering both Orkney and Shetland. 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 where he has worked on many projects including Culloden Battlefield, Balmacara, St Kilda and Glencoe. He is currently General Manager Countryside and Islands North, where he has special responsibilities for the Trust's island properties of Canna, St Kilda, Fair Isle, Iona, Shieldaig and Unst. Outside of work, his diverse interests include hill walking, gardening, bird watching and the cultural and natural history of the Highlands and Islands.

Eric Meek was born and brought up in Northumberland, and began birding seriously when he was 13. Qualifying as a teacher, he taught at Heaton School in Newcastle, but took a year off in 1972 to work as Assistant Warden at FIBO, an experience that he believes changed his life. Returning to Northumberland , he co-ordinated the raptor studies in that county, especially the work on Merlins during the 1970s. He also co-authored the county avifauna, Northumberland's Birds, and served on the BTO's Ringing & Migration Committee. He left Northumberland in 1981 to become the RSPB's Area Officer in Orkney, a post he held until his retirement in 2012. During that time he continued his studies of raptors, especially Hen Harriers and Merlins, but also worked on seabirds and published several papers, for example on skuas. During the 1980s he served on the Scottish Birds Rarities Committee and in 1998 he was appointed to the BOU Records Committee on which he served for six years, the last four as Chairman. Currently, he splits his time between Orkney and Aberdeenshire and spends as much of his life botanising as birding.

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 geologist by profession, but 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.

FIBOT President

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.

Roy Dennis on Fair Isle for BBC Springwatch, 2012.