As the burnt out remains of the fire ravaged Fair Isle Bird Observatory smouldered, its bosses spoke optimistically of their hopes to quickly rebuild and reopen.

That was 2019, and the two-storey wooden lodge which opened just eight years earlier, had been razed to the ground destroying important bird records and leaving the tiny island between Orkney and Shetland without its main accommodation for visitors.

Now, five years on and after a painfully slow sequence of delays had finally seemed to have been overcome, the building’s rebirth has suffered yet another setback.

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With the finishing line in sight and the exterior of the building complete, work on the observatory has ground to a halt, with the builders announcing they have gone into administration.

It has dashed hopes that the world-leading observatory might be able to throw open its doors to visitors any time this year.

Instead hopes are now pinned on the building, with its 29-room accommodation for up to 40 guests, being open in time for welcoming visitors next summer.

The delay is yet another blow for the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBOT) which has weathered a series of complications that pushed the construction of the £7.5million replacement facility back year after year.

It has also meant that plans by Loganair to reintroduce flights from Kirkwall to Fair Isle this summer - on hold since the fire - have now been pushed back to next year.

In an effort to drive ahead, it has now taken over as project managers for the remaining construction work. The Trust says the move will also help save money as it faces another year without income from visitors.

Fire destroyed the internationally-renowned observatory in March 2019, sparking a major fundraising campaign for its reconstruction led by Shetland crime series author Ann Cleeves, who once worked at the site.

Funds poured in as news of the blaze spread, including an initial £2.35m funding package from the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The Herald: Work to complete the new bird observatory on Fair Isle has been delayedWork to complete the new bird observatory on Fair Isle has been delayed (Image: Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust)

However, hopes to begin work quickly were hit by delays and complications, including the scrapping of initial designs for the new building which turned out to be outside the Trust’s budget, followed by the pandemic, Brexit and rising costs.

And although observatory work continued in temporary buildings, avian flu decimated bird numbers, with staff and volunteers witnessing distressing scenes of dead and dying birds and fears for the recovery of key species such as the Great Skua.

Douglas Barr, Chairman of the Trust said: “The fire was March 2019 and by the time we got all the money sorted, then had to redesign for a modular building system and retender, more time passed.

“We started to ship modules over, then the weather changed so 75% of them were stuck in Orkney and just 25% of them on Fair Isle.

“That meant we couldn’t get work done until the following summer.

“Now with builders going into administration, we have essentially lost this year too.

“Fair Isle is a very difficult place to build because we are at the mercy of the weather – we only have a window between May to October to do the work.”

Builders Lighthouse/IDMH went into administration last month.

While the building is now wind and watertight, the remaining internal work including electrical, plumbing and other fittings is being overseen by the Trust which will appoint individual specialist contractors.

The Herald: The wooden lodge observatory was destroyed in the 2019 blazeThe wooden lodge observatory was destroyed in the 2019 blaze

But with limited accommodation on the island and the constant challenges posed by the weather and travel arrangements, the Trust says it expects any work this year to be “minimal”.

The latest delays come as the islands enjoy a tourism boost on the back of the television crime drama, Shetland.

A new five part Sunday evening Channel 5 series, Shetland: Scotland’s Wondrous Isles, narrated by actor Mark Bonnar, also showcases the area and features native Shetlanders and 'incomers' who have opted to relocate to the islands. 

Just five miles by one-and-a- half miles wide Fair Isle is one of the world’s top spots to see rare birds that stop there to rest and feed along their migration routes and is famed for its textiles, historic shipwrecks and music

The observatory was established in 1948 in former naval huts by conservationist George Waterston. It has gathered bird census and migration data for more than 70 years and although some had been digitised by the time of the fire, many records were lost.

While the observatory is also crucial to the island’s economy, offering catered three-star accommodation to visitors who often travel to Fair Isle from around the world.

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With no restaurant or pub on the island, the facility was also a focal point for islanders.

In the wake of the 2019 fire, Loganair withdrew its Kirkwall to Fair Isle services. It had announced plans earlier this year to reinstate services with the anticipated reopening of the Observatory.

However a spokesperson for the company said: "Loganair's plans to reinstate its services to Fair Isle from Orkney are in line with the reopening of the Bird Observatory. Now the reopening is scheduled for summer 2025, Loganair will plan to relaunch its Fair Isle services from May 2025."

Mr Barr added: “We are hoping to get things completed by the end of this year with the aim of trying to reopen in late spring or early summer next year. But we are at the mercy of the weather.

“This affects us greatly. We have no income for another year and we really want to reopen and bring guests to Fair Isle.

“Part of the observatory’s role is to encourage tourism to the island, and that has been greatly affected.”

The Herald: The former observatory buildings were less then ten years old when they were destroyedThe former observatory buildings were less then ten years old when they were destroyed

He added: “We are inundated with requests from people who want to come to Fair Isle, because it’s a wonderful island for nature and for its textiles.

“While there are lots of cruise ships, bed and breakfast accommodation is restricted and the people who have to work on Fair Isle like a supply nurse or teacher will take priority.”

The observatory received £550,000 from the UK Government's Community Ownership Fund in December, while Shetland Islands Council-administered Crown Estate Coastal Communities Fund and the Garfield Weston Foundation have also contributed to the rebuild project.

A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) investigation into the 2019 blaze was inconclusive, stating that the blaze was likely to have started in the roof space.

However, another blaze the following year at Shetland’s Moorfield Hotel, also constructed using a modular design and like the observatory less than ten years old at the time, raised debate over modular construction, with theories that the stacking system meant fire could spread in the cavities between modules.