April 2013 Newsletter

by Alastair Hamilton -

Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the April 2013 issue of our monthly newsletter.

March saw lots of national exposure for Shetland and, back in the islands, there was a very full programme of events. The television crime drama, Shetland, had a mixed reception locally and from television critics; but the most frequent comment I heard was that Shetland's scenery stole the show. Meanwhile Socks, the utterly engaging moon-walking pony, has emerged as a real star, being seen around the world by roughly 6 million people on YouTube and by many more millions across the UK on television and in cinemas - including Mareel in Lerwick. It incidentally had the effect of propelling the music used ('Everywhere', by Fleetwood Mac) into the top twenty, giving the band their first hit in 25 years. As I report below, the children of one Shetland school have been looking at the impact of all this publicity.

Among other excitement, we had the last two fire festivals of the season and I saw the South mainland procession and galley burning at Hoswick. As the galley blazed on a gentle swell, I won't forget the galaxy of embers floating on the sea as the vessel met its end.

March also saw the annual Shetland Schools Music Festival, as eclectic as ever, with all kinds of music being played on a wide range of instruments by some astonishingly gifted young people. Finley Armstrong (aged 11) of Dunrossness Primary School, carried off the title of Junior Young Musician of the Year for his virtuoso trumpet playing: he's a huge Louis Armstrong fan. Hannah Adamson (15) from Sandwick Junior High School was declared Senior Young Musician of the Year. She had entered in both violin and alto sax and her violin performance clinched the title. Hannah plays another three instruments and is in the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.

Towards the end of the month, there was more music from Donnie Munro, formerly of Scottish supergroup, Runrig, but nowadays an established solo artist. In April, ; we have visits by The Beat and King Creosote coming up and of course everyone has been getting their booking forms in for the Shetland Folk Festival at the beginning of May. Several concerts are already sold out.

Although March has been decidedly bracing, it's been very dry and often sunny, with none of the snowdrifts that have overwhelmed several areas of Britain. I really enjoyed a walk around the headland of Kettlaness, not far from where I live, on the first day of Spring. As we'll see, it's also been ideal weather for spotting some rather unusual avian visitors.

'Ignition' fires imagination, draws national praise

A remarkable drama project undertaken over the past winter has involved many people in Shetland and has won admiration from national critics.

Since October 2012, theNational Theatre of Scotland and Shetland Arts, with support from Creative Scotland, have led 'Ignition', a project exploring with Shetland residents our bittersweet relationships with the car - how it shapes us, defines us, supports us, frees us, challenges our attitudes towards our dwindling resources and, sometimes, kills us.

Ignition has engaged Shetland's residents in exploring both the personal and global impact of their use in our lives, in a group of islands that are home to Europe's largest oil terminal and a centre of renewable energy research and development.

The project has used a range of workshops/residencies, pop-up events and public events to help gather information from as many of Shetland's residents as possible. This has included Dance and Parkour Workshops exploring travel. The White Wife, an actor in the character of a ghost known to drivers on the island of Unst, travelled round Shetland's extensive road network. She used a number of methods to gather 'car stories' including hitch-hiking, Sunday Teas on Wheels, and travelling 'on da buses' exploring the use of public transport.

Music has also been used to extract some stories and thoughts about the car - Ignition's resident composer Hugh Nankivell has been working with schools and music groups to write and arrange music inspired by travel and transport. On 12th January, an open day was held at Mareel,the islands' new arts centre, inviting the public to stop and think about how cars are involved in their lives, and share more stories.

Since 2006, the National Theatre of Scotland has brought groundbreaking theatre such as the highly-praised Black Watch to Scotland and beyond. With no central venue as their home, NTS is defined as 'a Theatre Without Walls' and thrives on bringing spectacular theatrical experiences to audiences, very often in venues other than theatres.

Ignition culminated with a final series of performances that offered something quite unique, well described in Claire Brennan's Observer review. Other reviewers have been similarly impressed: there are links to several on this Facebook page. It was a really ambitious and exciting project and it has clearly succeeded.

Fearnley-Whittingstall admires Shetland scallop controls

Shetland's system of local control over scallop fisheries has won over celebrity chef and food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

The man behind 'Hugh's Fish Fight' has been highly critical of the way that many scallops are caught around the UK, using dredges which scar the seabed. In Shetland, however, the scallop fishery is regulated locally with the aim of ensuring that it's sustainable. Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall has argued that the rest of the country should follow Shetland's example.

Shetland has had its own Regulating Order since 2001. The details are set out on the website operated by the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO), which is a company limited by guarantee, with ten directors representing organisations concerned with the future of shellfish around the islands. The order allows the SSMO legally to manage commercial fishing for lobsters, crabs, scallops, queens, whelks, razorshells, cockles, mussels and oysters within the area between the low water mark and the six mile limit around Shetland. As part of its activities, the SSMO can also impose restrictions and regulations, issue licences and impose tolls.

A year ago, the Shetland shellfish industry - which is worth at least £7m annually - won generous praise from Scottish Fisheries Minister, Richard Lochhead, for its 'outstanding achievement' as three of their main fisheries - King Scallop, Velvet Crab and Brown Crab became the first of their kind globally to achieve the sought-after Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification as sustainable and well-managed fisheries.

Jeweller and enameller move their business to Shetland

One of the UK's leading silversmiths and a well-known jeweller and enameller have moved their home and workshops to Shetland.

The couple's work is currently on show at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale. Rod Kelly makes fine silverware, often also using gold, and specialises in intricate 'chasing' of the metal to produce extraordinarily beautiful pieces, many of them substantial. He has work in many collections, including the V&A, No.10 Downing Street, the Royal Mint and St Paul's Cathedral. He trained in Birmingham and at the Royal College of Art and, after living and working in Norfolk for 25 years, has renovated a croft house in Shetland, in which to work part-time.

His wife, Sheila McDonald, produces exquisite jewellery - necklaces, brooches, earrings and cufflinks - using gold, gold leaf, silver and enamelling. She also makes beautiful beakers. She originally pursued textile design at the Glasgow School of Art before being drawn towards silversmithing and jewellery design, which she studied at the Royal College of Art in London.

The exhibition at Bonhoga brings together commissions and new pieces inspired by Shetland. Rod and Sheila have collaborated on some of the pieces. Their work is of quite breathtaking quality and Shetland is fortunate to have two more exceptional artists join an already thriving creative community. The show at Bonhoga runs until 21 April.

Scottish Government Cabinet to hold summer meeting in Shetland

The Scottish Government will meet in Shetland later this year as part of its sixth year of summer cabinet meetings outside Edinburgh.

Speaking at the Convention of the Highlands and Islands at Mareel in Lerwick, Finance Secretary John Swinney confirmed that the Cabinet will visit in July.

In addition to the formal cabinet meeting, Ministers hold open meetings for the local community as part of such visits and the public are encouraged to attend the sessions, where Ministers will be on hand to answer questions.

Mr Swinney said: "The summer cabinet programme provides an excellent opportunity for the Scottish Government to meet hundreds of people from communities across Scotland. "The Highlands and Islands make a substantial contribution to Scotland's economy and culture. My cabinet colleagues will be meeting in Shetland this summer to hear first hand about the issues important to the people of Shetland and to set out what the Scottish Government is doing to support the growth and prosperity of these islands now and in the future."

The Convention of the Highlands and Islands - which Mr Swinney chairs - aims to strengthen the links between the Scottish Government and other public agencies, with a focus on increasing sustainable growth. There's particular emphasis on sharing successful experience and illustrating best practice. Over fifty delegates from local authorities and public bodies across Scotland attended the event in Lerwick. Two other Scottish Government Ministers were also in attendance.

April sees Shetland's spring clean - Da Voar Redd Up

Shetland Amenity Trust has announced the dates for Shetland's 26th annual Voar Redd Up, with most events taking place over the weekend of 27th and 28th April.

Originally launched in 1988, Da Voar Redd Up quickly became the largest community based voluntary clear-up anywhere in the UK, with over 20% of Shetland's population regularly volunteering for the event. Last year, 4,849 participants volunteered more than 10,000 man hours to collect over 56 tonnes of bruck from roadside verges, beaches and coastline. In Shetland dialect, 'Voar' is the word for 'Spring'.

Sita Goudie, Environmental Improvement Project Officer with Shetland Amenity Trust, commented: "Last year Da Voar Redd Up reached its quarter century and attracted its highest volunteer numbers to date; showing the incredible volunteering spirit there is in Shetland. What has been achieved through Da Voar Redd Up is quite incredible, with over 1500 tonnes of bruck being removed from our countryside."

As well as providing an opportunity for the community to get together to improve their environment, taking part in the Redd Up can raise funds for local groups through sponsorship, and businesses and schools can earn points towards environmental schemes and awards. This year, for the first time, Young Scot card holders can also earn points through the Young Scot Reward Scheme.

Shetland Amenity Trust supplies all gloves and bags for the Redd Up, and takes away all the bruck collected, free of charge. Thanks to Shetland's waste-to-energy facilities, most of what's collected is transformed into heat for homes and businesses in Lerwick and only 10% of the waste goes to landfill. There's more information on the Voar Redd Up website.

Shetland birdwatchers in the pink as southern species settles in the isles

To the delight and astonishment of ornithologists, a flock of eighteen flamingos has taken up residence on Strand Loch, in the Tingwall valley.

The small plantation just west of the loch, seen in our photograph, is a favourite haunt of bird-watchers in search of rare migrants, but nobody had imagined that these magnificent birds would put in an appearance. It's thought that they may have found their way here thanks to the long spell of south-easterly winds that have affected Shetland, along with the rest of Britain. Local experts say that they are undoubtedly specimens of Phoenicopterus roseus. Given the wind direction, their most likely origin is thought to be India or Pakistan.

There's been huge interest in the birds and the small airport at Tingwall, just a mile or so from the loch, has been handling up to fifty chartered aircraft per day, bringing hundreds of enthusiasts from all over Europe. Adjacent to the loch is the local community hall and volunteers have laid on those Shetland specialities, reestit mutton bannocks and tattie soup, to sustain the birders. The RSPB initially cautioned well-meaning visitors against feeding bannocks to the flamingos, since bannocks lack the pigment that gives the birds their characteristic hue, but the Hall Committee has begun baking pink bannocks, which it's hoped will maintain the birds' colour.

The birds seem to like their new home, as it offers exactly the kind of habitat they favour, with shallow water and some areas of muddy shore. The birds have been engaging in their characteristic courtship rituals and local birders are optimistic that they may breed and become resident, since the flight back to the sub-continent must be a daunting prospect.

That said, these remarkable birds could, of course, disappear overnight, but if you're on a 'recce' trip to Shetland right now, a visit to Strand Loch might offer a quite incredible bonus.

Young mathematicians excel

There was good news for the Anderson High School's Junior UK Maths Challenge team, who will be heading to the national finals after winning their regional team event.

Jack Tait from Tingwall and Fyntan Shaw from Fair Isle are both in S2, and Lois Ross and Louise Cluness, both from Lerwick, are in S1. They travelled to Aberdeen for the competition and beat 17 public and private schools from across the north of Scotland. They'll now compete in the UK finals in London on 17th June.

The UK Mathematical Trust's Team Maths Challenge is an annual event, with teams competing in over 60 regional competitions across the UK.

The North and North East Scotland regional final, held in Elphinstone Hall at Aberdeen University, consisted of competitive rounds of mathematical problem solving. The team said they'd felt in a strong position from the start, scoring full marks in the first round. AHS scored 210 points, 11 points ahead of their nearest rivals, Robert Gordon's College.

Valerie Nicolson, Head Teacher at Anderson High School, said: "The school is so proud of these youngsters' achievements at national level. We've entered the competition for a number of years, and have had some good results, but never a win. Our thanks go to the Maths Department, and particularly teacher Trina Stirling who travelled with the group."

Great nights in prospect for music fans

Shetland is a place where every musical genre has a place and forthcoming concerts in Mareel will surely have the joint a-jumping.

Headliners this week are The Beat, one the biggest bands of the 2-Tone movement. Formed in Birmingham in 1978, they were part of the West Midlands ska revival scene that also produced The Specials and The Selecter. Their London contemporaries were Madness and The Bodysnatchers.

Known for relentless energy and world class musicianship, they have a reputation for connecting strongly with their audience. They've had a string of hit singles, including 'Mirror in the Bathroom,' 'Too Nice To Talk To,' 'Can't Get Used To Losing You,' 'Hands off She's Mine' and 'All Out To Get You'. Their songs of peace, love and unity fuse ska, pop, reggae and punk rock and their live show has gained them a loyal following at home and abroad. Ska and 2-tone have a strong following in Shetland.

The supporting act is a young Shetland band, Troppo Funk, who specialise in "intense funk-fusion". They've been playing around Shetland for the past year, including slots at both the Blues Festival and Jazz Festival; one of their performances can be seen here. Norman Willmore is on saxophone, Max Tyler on piano, Hayden Hook on bass, Joe Watt on guitar, and Lewis Murray on drums. Those who've heard them can testify to their superb musicianship. All in all, it should be a memorable night.

But that's not all. Three days later, there's an evening with King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson, who is part of the Fife-based Fence Collective label and is one of the most highly-regarded songwriters in Scottish folk circles. His collaboration album with Jon Hopkins, Diamond Mine, was nominated for the 2011 Mercury Music Prize. He has released over forty solo albums and is also a member of Scottish-Canadian band The Burns Unit. His other LP releases include KC Rules OK, Bombshell and Flick the Vs, while this year the prolific musician has issued a trio of four-track EPs. You can sample one of his collaborations with Jon Hopkins, The Bubble.

There's yet another concert on 13 April, this time featuring MacFloyd, said to be the UK's best Pink Floyd tribute band. Their current tour celebrates the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's seminal album Dark Side Of The Moon, which they'll perform in its entirety. They'll also play many other tracks from Pink Floyd's back catalogue as part of a stunning 2½ hour show. They're an 8 piece band complete with backing singers and amazing visuals that will conjure up memories of Pink Floyd live. Here's a sample track.

Mareel is proving to be a superb and very popular venue not only for film and major concerts, but also for more informal music making, with informal jazz and DJ sets in the café bar, and many other events, including conferences.

Shetland dogs pick up a fistful of rosettes at Crufts

Two German wirehaired pointers owned by a Shetland woman have made a very successful debut at Crufts

Fiona Johnson, who lives in the west mainland community of Skeld, had previously entered other shows. However, when Gunnar and Ylva qualified for Crufts, she never imagined that the dogs would impress the judges to the extent they did on this, her first visit to Britain's biggest dog event.

The judges were, in fact, very complimentary about the dogs. In the gamekeeper's class, Gunnar came third and Ylva fourth. In the working gundog class, Ylva came a very creditable fifth in a lineup of 30 that included some recognised champions.

The result of the trip was a fistful of rosettes and Fiona, who works for Shetland Islands Council as a Safety Officer, is delighted with the outcome. Gunnar and Ylva will be back at Crufts next year.

Hazelnuts found growing in Shetland

On a recent routine visit to a tree plantation at the Loch of Voe, in Shetland's north mainland, the woodlands staff from the Shetland Amenity Trust were surprised to come across a few ripe hazelnuts on a shrub, in a stand of about one or two dozen hazels.

It is known that these were planted in either 1998 or 1999, and the seed origin of the saplings was Torridon, in the north-west Highlands.

Shetland has two 'relict' hazels still growing in the wild; neither is known to have fruited, which is not surprising as they are far apart (at Catfirth, Nesting and at Punds Water, Northmavine) and hazels are not self-fertile.

Hazels are thought to need a September average temperature of about 12ºC in order to set viable fruit and the official temperature records for the islands indicate an average September temperature of 10.5ºC. What's more, last summer was not particularly warm. However, the temperatures are recorded on a hill high above Lerwick, where it's usually considerably cooler than in more sheltered spots, and it looks as though the microclimate at Loch of Voe may be more favourable.

Woodlands Project Manager, James MacKenzie, is keen to hear if anyone has any evidence of ripe hazelnuts having been produced outdoors in Shetland. James said:

"We do know that nuts have been found buried in peat, coincidentally also near Voe, and that hazel was probably widespread in Shetland between about 9000 and 4500 years ago. "If it turns out that these few nuts are the first recorded ripe ones since that time, then it seems a quite remarkable event. It could guarantee the future of hazel in Shetland as a woodland and garden shrub with several useful purposes."

Bell's Brae Primary learns journalistic skills

Is Shetland home to the next Kirsty Wark or Eddie Mair? Primary 7 children from Bell's Brae Primary School in Lerwick recently took part in BBC Schools News Report.

They researched and prepared a local news story, interviewing local people. Two of the pupils then read the bulletin to camera and there was a weather forecast, too. The BBC School News Report gives 11-16 year old pupils in the UK a chance to make their own news reports for a real audience.

Class teacher, Louise Leslie said: "It was an exciting event for the pupils to be involved in. They had the opportunity to take part in a nationwide event while learning about local issues and developing skills as a journalist."

The young news team looked at the impact of all the recent publicity that Shetland has had, including that moonwalking pony and the 'Shetland' crime drama. You can see the news bulletin that they produced here. It may take a little while to load unless you have a very fast connection.

Blog Of The Month

Our blog this month comes from Britain's remotest island, Fair Isle, which lies about 25 miles south-south-west of Sumburgh Head.