only Wildlife Sanctuary is based at the Booth in Hillswick. The Booth has
been a hive of industry for more than three centuries. The first official
records go back to 1698 when Adolf Westermann, a merchant from Hamburg,
Germany, registered the building as a böd, or trading post. It was here
that all manner of goods were traded between the north European Hanseatic
fleet and the local folk of Shetland. Trading, of one form or another, has
been continuous at the Booth ever since those early days.
could say the Booth was the womb from which the whole community of
Hillswick was born. It became a magnet drawing people from far and wide,
and over the years this led to houses, shops and several businesses
springing up in the area. Visitors began to come and enjoy the outstanding
natural beauty of this remote part of the isles, and in 1907 a large
wooden hotel was built overlooking St. Magnus Bay, to accommodate them
all. By the mid 1970's the only trade going on at the Booth was over the
bar of Shetland's oldest pub. Then the oil boom arrived bringing wealth
and new blood into the community. In 1976, the year that work began on the
Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, Jan Bevington took over the premises.
For the next decade Jan was kept busy running the pub and raising three
children single handed. Then one summer's evening in 1978, she found a
young Common Seal washed up on the beach directly in front of the Booth.
It was tiny and barely alive and Jan brought it in and looked after it in
her front garden, setting up a children's paddling pool for it to play in.
Rosie the seal drew much attention from locals and visitors alike. Word
rapidly spread throughout the isles and that summer six more sick seals
were brought to the Booth to be cared for and released back to the wild.
Jan soon realised there was a need for a haven for these animals and the
Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary was born.
photo right - Jan feeding rescued seal pup
the next few years all kinds of creatures were brought to the sanctuary -
ranging from Hedgehogs to Herons - but Otters and both Common and Grey
Seals predominated. In October 1991, after severe storms, almost 100 Grey
Seal pups were left stranded on the shores of nearby Ronas Voe. With help,
Jan saved 45 of them although the sheer number of animals involved meant
that many had to be flown south to other sanctuaries.
Meanwhile the oil boom was trailing off and trade at the pub declining.
Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary had to be run on a shoestring basis as Jan
sank more and more of her time and effort into looking after the animals
brought to her door. Support for the Sanctuary was sought from the oil
industry and the local council, pointing out the threat to local wildlife
posed by having Europe's largest oil terminal based in Shetland. Little
happened until the 5th January 1993 when disaster struck. An oil tanker,
the Braer, went aground at Garth's Ness in the southern tip of the isles,
spilling 85,000 tonnes of crude oil into the sea. A huge rescue operation
for Shetland's wildlife was put into operation. Animal welfare groups and
volunteers from all over the world descended on the Booth, which became
the response centre for oiled seals and otters. With financial resources
now available and along with a small army of volunteers the facilities at
the sanctuary were quickly scaled up to receive victims of the spill. In
total 37 seals and 7 otters were treated as a result of the spill and
almost all of them survived.
Braer disaster had a colossal impact and changed life at the Booth for
good. That October Jan closed the ailing pub business to devote herself
entirely to caring for wildlife. She needed some form of income to keep
the sanctuary going, so the Booth became a charity and the pub became a
café/restaurant serving vegetarian and vegan food in exchange for
donations. These changes have not been achieved without a struggle, but
gradually a new way of life is emerging at the Booth. Two kindred spirits,
Sam Oliver and Pete Bevington, are now helping Jan realise her dream.
Plans for seal pools and an environmental information centre are in the
addition several new ventures are being hatched to complement the
LETSystem (Local Exchange Trading System), based at the Booth,
generating cash free trade amongst its growing membership throughout
modern day trading post in an adjoining store, recapturing something of
the spirit of former days at the Booth.
Dolphin School for Shetland Roots and Culture, reviving ancient
traditions in an old Victorian school building just along the road. Here
traditional Shetland music, arts and crafts will be brought to life and
integrated with modern culture to help bridge the growing divide between
the young and old.
you can see, Rosie the seal brought much more with her than anyone could
have imagined at the time.
What to do if you find a stranded or injured seal or otter in Shetland
Occasionally, seals and otters may become entangled in fishing gear and
may suffer shock, which can kill them. You can help by taking appropriate
action: When seals become entangled in fishing gear offshore, it will take
patience and time to release them. It is best done at the surface of the
water so that the effective weight is less. If a seal is caught in a trawl
or drift net do not lift it out of
the water on to the deck if it appears to be active and alert, as it may
suffer respiratory collapse or cardiac arrest. Never tow a seal to harbour
if this can be avoided. Always ensure that all net and line has been
removed from the seal before releasing it. Be particularly careful if you
decide to handle an injured otter as they have very sharp and powerful
teeth, ideally they should be quickly placed into a darkened box where
they will quickly calm down.
found stranded on beaches are sometimes already dead, but may just be
injured. Look for wounds such as those made by boat propellers or sharks.
Young seals in particular may be exhausted, disorientated or shocked. If
you find a seal in this condition contact the sanctuary, who
will be able to advise or arrange suitable rehabilitation.
Photos - Common Seal (left), Grey Seal (right)
Contact: Jan Bevington, Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, The Booth,
Hillswick, Shetland Tel. (01806) 503348
Hillswick Wildlife Centre is a volunteer organisation and relies on
donations to continue its work. If you can help all donations are
gratefully received. Donations may be made to the Sanctuary or paid
directly into its bank account: The
Clydesdale Bank, 106 Commercial Street, Lerwick, Shetland. Bank Code:
82-66-08, Account Number: 30241156
The Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary is a registered charity No. SCO 20979