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. SC011160), 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 2023) are: Douglas Barr (Chair), Karen Hall (Vice-Chair), Mike Wood (Director of Finance), Ian Andrews, Alexander Bennett, Mark Bolton, Ian Cowgill, Pete Ellis, Paul Harvey, Jane Reid, Hollie Shaw and Glen Tyler. Roy Dennis is our Honorary President.

Short Biographies of FIBOT Directors

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.

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 recently-retired from the National Trust for Scotland which he joined 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 retired as a geologist in 2018 and has 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 was co-ordinating editor of the journal Scottish Birds from 2009 to 2020. He was a member of the group which organised and published Birds in South-east Scotland 2007-13, 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 NatureScot 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'.

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.

FIBOT Honorary 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.
FIBOT directors
The FIBOT Board of Directors (June 2019) (left to right): Ian Cowgill, Roy Dennis, Pete Ellis, Ian Andrews, Dave Okill (Vice-Chairman), Paul Harvey, Alexander Bennett, Fiona Mitchell, Mike Wood (Director of Finance), David Parnaby (Warden), Susannah Parnaby (Administrator), Karen Hall, Douglas Barr (Chairman) [Mark Bolton, Jane Reid and Kerri Whiteside were not present] © Grace Parnaby
FIBOT directors
The FIBOT Board of Directors (June 2017). Standing (left to right): Dave Okill (Vice-Chairman), Pete Ellis, Mike Wood (Director of Finance), Karen Hall, Fiona Mitchell, Peter Evans, Ian Andrews, Louise Batchelor (retired), Mark Bolton; sitting: Kerri Whiteside, Douglas Barr (Chairman), Ian Cowgill. [Roy Dennis (Honorary President), Jane Reid and Alexander Bennett were not present]
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]