May 2010 Newsletter
Here is our newsletter from May 2010. We hope you find it of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for more advice using either the contact details at the end of this newsletter or via the contact page on the website. To receive our monthly newsletters by email, please sign-up using the form in the left column.
Michael Laurenson, whose company farms rope-grown mussels in voes (sea inlets) in the north of Shetland, has recently returned to the islands from one of the world's most renowned business schools. He excelled at an entrepreneurs' development programme at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.
The programme is made possible through the partnership developed with MIT by the regional development agency in the north of Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The partnership gives local businesses access to world class business and sales training and the latest in research in management and leadership techniques.
The business plan competition was won by a team which included Michael. His was one of seven businesses from the Highlands and Islands taking part in the week long programme. They were working with over 120 firms from 30 countries across the world.
Michael has returned full of praise for the MIT experience. "Our time at MIT was a fantastic learning experience with world-class lecturers who could hold an audience with every word. I took back a number of key fundamentals learned at MIT which I find myself applying subconsciously on a daily basis. It changes the way you think about things and helps you examine where you really want to go in your business. I have learned a lot of practical lessons from some very high calibre people which will undoubtedly help me to grow the business back home."
Michael's company, Blueshell Mussels, is a family business formed in 1997 and based in the village of Brae, Shetland. They use advanced cultivation techniques to supply high-quality mussels to leading restaurants and major supermarkets which are supplied through the sales and marketing co-operative Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group, of which Michael is chairman.
Shetland's young swimmers have once again done remarkably well in a national competition. A ten-strong team from the islands managed to bring home no fewer than nine medals from the Scottish National Age Group Championships in Glasgow, four of them gold. It was a notable success, because they were competing against some of the best young swimmers in Britain. Their achievements may well have roots in the excellent facilities for swimming in Shetland. There are eight modern pools throughout the islands, the largest being the 6-lane, 25-metre competition pool in Lerwick, and there is excellent coaching.
Shetland, which packs a remarkably rich variety of geology into a land area of under 1,500km², is now part of the Global Geoparks Network. Following designation as a European Geopark last year, the islands were nominated to the worldwide geoparks organisation. In April, at the 4th international UNESCO conference on Geoparks in Langkawi Geopark, Malaysia, Shetland was formally accepted as a Global Geopark member.
The Chairman of Shetland Amenity Trust, Brian Gregson, spoke at the conference, which he said had been a very useful event. "My presentation was very well received and it was great to have the opportunity to present Geopark Shetland on a global platform. Lots of delegates showed an interest in working with, and visiting, Geopark Shetland and I'm sure I will be hearing from many of them in the future. Accepting Global Geopark Status on behalf of Geopark Shetland was an honour and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the success of Geopark Shetland."
The islands' rocks span almost 3 billion years and they tell an amazing tale, not just about Shetland, but how the world itself has formed and changed. There is evidence of oceans opening and closing, mountains forming and eroding, tropical seas, volcanoes, deserts, ice ages and ancient rivers. This geology has also created a home for a world famous biodiversity. For example, the eroded cliffs on the island of Noss, visited by Simon King in his recent Shetland Diaries for BBC2, offer an ideal nesting site for thousands of gannets and other seabirds. On the island of Unst, Edmondston's Chickweed – which is found nowhere else on the planet - grows on a lunar-like landscape of serpentine debris.
There's more information on the Shetland Geopark website.
Shetland is one of the areas selected for a major, government-sponsored study of Harbour Seals. Despite their other name, Common Seals, they've been in decline recently and scientists are keen to find out why. They'll be studying the seals' diet, collecting and analysing faeces from sites around Shetland and looking also at sites elsewhere in Scotland. Competition with Grey Seals may be one of the factors in the decline and the research team will be examining the way the species interact. There's more about the work, which is being organised by the University of St Andrews, on the Seal Diet Scotland website.
One of the ways to get a feel for Shetland is via the growing network of webcams that allow a virtual visit from anywhere in the world. The webcams offer views of spectacular landscapes around Sumburgh Head, at Shetland's southern tip, and cliff and coastal scenery in the north mainland. There are also cameras in Lerwick that show the Market Cross, focal point of the old town, and the harbour.
Now, thanks to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, two new webcams have been installed at the puffin nesting sites at Sumburgh. One is in a burrow used by Puffins for nesting and the other shows the grassy clifftop. All the webcams can be found on the webcams page. From there, one click will take you to the Puffins or to any of the other camera sites. We can't, of course, guarantee that a puffin will be in range every time you visit but the birds are plentiful here, so the chances of seeing one are good. For local people or visitors, Sumburgh Head is notable as a place where it's possible to get very close to the Puffins, often within a couple of metres.
In Viking times, a Thing was the place where community leaders and lawmakers assembled to practise the art of government. The sites of former Things are spread across north-west Europe as a result of Viking settlement. Now, a three-year project is under way to connect and interpret a network of Things. It involves partners in Shetland, Orkney, Norway, Iceland, Faroe, Highland Scotland and the Isle of Man. During April, Shetland hosted the second in a series of conferences, with some sessions open to the public. The project, which is being run under the EU-sponsored Northern Periphery Programme, has a total budget of €989,002 and will conclude in 2012.
Eileen Brooke Freeman, the Shetland Amenity Trust's Place Names Officer, explains that: "We can identify many of the assembly sites throughout areas of Scandinavian influence by their common ting, thing, ding and fing place names. Examples include Gulating (Norway), Þingvellir (Iceland), Tinganes (Faroe), Tingwall (Shetland and Orkney), Dingwall (Highland) and Tynwald (Isle of Man). This project enables us to develop a much greater understanding and vastly increase our knowledge of where and why this system of justice was practised through studying historical and oral accounts, archaeological and place name evidence, and by comparing sites in partner regions."
It's hoped that the project may lead to a transnational World Heritage nomination, expanding on Iceland's existing World Heritage Site, Þingvellir.
In Shetland, several districts have Thing names: Aithsting, Sandsting, Nesting, Lunnasting and Delting In the parish of Tingwall, in the central mainland, a former island in a freshwater loch is known as the Law Ting Holm. It was there that interpretation of the law and dispensing of justice was carried out during the long period of Norse rule.
There's more information about the Thing project on the programme website.
Tickets for major events in Shetland often sell quickly, but comedian Bill Bailey may have broken records for his show at the Clickimin Leisure Centre on 26 May. The initial batch of 700 tickets was snapped up in a day and a second allocation of a further 400 disappeared in just 37 minutes. Bailey, who is currently to be seen in Emma Thompson's feature film, Nanny McPhee, has a wide range of interests outside comedy. His Shetland trip may allow time for him to indulge in one of his passions, bird-watching.
The 30th Shetland Folk Festival, just concluded, has once again been a hugely successful event. Despite extra concerts being included in this year's programme, most sold out in advance. Ticket demand has been exceptional for some events, particularly the concerts (or 'foys') on the Sunday evening, each featuring fifteen different bands. As always, the festival featured an eclectic range of performers. The four-piece Ahimsa, an Indian-German fusion, treated audiences to the complex rhythms of Indian carnatic music blended with jazz. From the USA, the Foghorn Stringband brought early bluegrass and the Wiyos delighted lovers of blues. The Paradiso Jazz Quartet offered gypsy swing with a dash of Cole Porter. Meanwhile, Eva Hren and Sladcore provided a contemporary take on Slovenian folk; and Sweden's Baskery engaged in 'banjo punk' with attitude. Add to that a wealth of more traditional ensembles like Bodega, Session A9, Morga, Lau, Shetland's own Fiddler's Bid, not to mention the New Rope String Band - whose brilliant parody of folk dances reduced audiences to tears - and the result was a real treat. There is much more information on the Folk Festival website.
A conference introducing recent research on DNA, health and history is to be held in Shetland on 14 and 15 May. Experts from Britain and Iceland will sum up new work on DNA, and how it can unlock the secrets of human history and ancestry. They will also talk about genetic risks to health. It's intended that they will cover this complex subject in a very accessible way, outlining recent discoveries and prospects for advances in future.
The study of DNA has become extremely important in recent years. Dr Jim Wilson, whose projects on DNA and health in the Northern Isles are well-known, will give a keynote lecture on the Friday evening about 'Diseases and our genes'. He will show how geneticists find genes that pose a risk to health, and will ask if it will be possible to predict what illnesses lie in store for us by using our DNA. Later in the weekend, he will look at the genetic links between males in Shetland and Norway. On the Saturday morning, Professor Alan Wright will deal with the major milestones in the discovery and understanding of DNA. He will show how DNA provides an amazingly accurate genetic template even within ageing bodies and across thousands of generations.
Other speakers deal with the early history of human beings, and how DNA is helping us to understand how our ancestors moved from continent to continent tens of thousands of years ago. Professor Martin Richards will describe new research which shows that modern humans emerged from Africa along the southern tropical coast at least 60,000 years ago and moved into the Near East from South Asia 50,000 years ago. Moving nearer home, Dr Agnar Sturla Helgason will give the results of new work about the genetic history of populations from Iceland, Shetland, Orkney and other islands in the north, based both on DNA from contemporary people and Viking Age teeth. Dr Turi King will examine the link between the Y chromosome and male surnames.
For further details and a full conference programme visit the Museum and Archives website and click on 'Events' and then on the conference link.
One of those cheering on Scottish First Division side, Ross County, in the recent Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park, Glasgow was an eight-year old football fan from Lerwick, Calvin Hunter. He appeared on the Hampden turf as the Ross County mascot thanks to his grandfather, Dr Mike Hunter – a former Shetland GP - being the team's doctor. It was a great day for the Highlanders as they despatched a lacklustre Celtic, holders of second place in the Scottish Premier League, in a stunning 2-0 result, setting up another trip to Hampden for the final against Dundee United on 15 May.
Shetland sometimes makes the news for entirely unexpected reasons. The latest surprising headlines have been those connected with a piglet called Lowrie, born on 29 March 2010. Lowrie was the runt of the litter and needed some extra care, so his owner, Heather Davidson, took him into her house, where he settled into a routine of bottle-feeding and warm sleeps by the fire.
Lowrie's life might then have followed a fairly conventional route. However, being a particularly precocious piglet, he managed to set up his own page on Facebook. His fame spread worldwide at astonishing speed. Numerous news agencies and broadcasters picked up the story. By the end of April, the number of Facebook fans was approaching 9,000, with messages flowing in from well-wishers scattered from Australia to Hungary and the United States to Vietnam. Back in Shetland, Lowrie's days have been filled with visits to nurseries, schools and care centres.
Visitors to the Facebook site have, understandably, speculated on Lowrie's eventual fate, with many references to chops and the posting of a surreal photomontage involving a bacon roll. However, it seems that he need not worry: Ms Davidson has made it clear that she has no intention of serving him up with eggs or apple sauce. Although he has been making friends with some new-born lambs, it's not yet known if (like Babe in the 1995 film) he'd like to make a career in herding sheep.
If you'd like to follow his progress, become a fan of Lowrie on his facebook fan page.
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The Team at Shetland.org
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Shetland Islands Council, Solarhus, North Ness, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0LZ, UNITED KINGDOM