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May 2009 Newsletter


Here is our newsletter from April 2009. To receive our monthly newsletters by email, please sign-up using the form in the left column.

Another Successful Shetland Folk Festival

The 29th Shetland Folk Festival, which has just taken place, was as popular and eclectic as ever. Capacity audiences have been the rule for all 23 concerts, musicians making their way to the islands from places as diverse as Asturias in northern Spain, Toronto and Australia.

There was exquisite playing and singing from Cara Dillon, Madison Violet, Felpeyu, Vishtèn and many, many more, but audiences also took time out to enjoy the no less talented, but very funny, antics of the New Rope String Band.

This year, the Folk Festival has also been participating in a project that linked four young music students from Shetland with their peers from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden in a week of workshops culminating in a performance. The project has been supported by money from LEADER and the Nordic Culture Fund.

There's more about the background to the event in our feature article and full details of the performers, with samples, are on the Shetland Folk Festival website.

Bird Observatory: More Cash Offered

Last month, we reported that the bird observatory on Fair Isle had secured a number of grants to assist in the cost of building a completely new observatory. We're pleased to add that the last major element of the funding was announced just after we distributed the newsletter. The final part of the financial jigsaw was a grant of nearly £2m from the Rural Priorities scheme operated by the Scottish Government. The money means that work can begin shortly.

If you'd like to find out more about the project, please go to the Observatory website.

Martin Clunes Begins Island Journey In Shetland

On Sunday evening, 3 May, actor Martin Clunes began his televised journey through the islands of Britain with a visit to Muckle Flugga, very nearly the most northerly point in the UK, which lies just north of the Shetland island of Unst. (Strictly speaking, the most northerly point is Out Stack, a rock just north of Muckle Flugga). His trip also included a look at the Up Helly Aa tradition in Unst and the island's Viking archaeological heritage, famous bus shelter and community life.

He also met some Shetland ponies and interviewed the owner of the 'Crown Dependency of Forvik', Stuart Hill, who is trying to persuade Shetlanders and others that Shetland never became part of Scotland.

The programme can be seen until the beginning of June on the ITV Player.

Young Musicians Win Awards

Each year, young fiddlers from around Shetland compete in an annual contest, organised by the Shetland Folk Society. More than 80 took part in 2009 and several youngsters carried off trophies. The overall winner, who gains the title of Shetland Young Fiddler of The Year, was sixteen year old Chapman Cheng, whose family hails from Hong Kong but now lives near Lerwick.

As always, the volume of entries reflected the depth of musical talent in Shetland, nurtured by a local education system that strongly encourages young people to take up an instrument.

Sail Training Offers Great Experience To Young People

There's a strong sailing tradition in Shetland, with every community having its fair share of enthusiasts and boats. Many also have purpose-built marinas, the latest of which, at Hamnavoe on the island of West Burra, has just opened.

There's great interest in sailing heritage, too, with Shetland's lovingly-restored sail-fishing vessel, the Swan, a familiar sight around the islands. Building on those foundations, a new association has been set up to give young people aged between 15 and 25 more opportunities to take part in sailing. It will sponsor places on sail training vessels and the first opportunities will arise later this year.

In August, up to eight local young people will have the chance to sail on the Swan when she takes part in the final leg of the 2009 Tall Ships Races from Greenock to Belfast.

In 2011, the Tall Ships Races will once again come to Lerwick following a highly successful visit in 1999. There's more about these races here.

Meanwhile, last year's Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year, 16 year old Maggie Adamson, has been selected to join Scotland's national sailing team.

Craft Work Features In Archaeological Programme

One of Shetland's most popular attractions for visitors and locals alike is the archaeological site at Old Scatness, close to the islands' main airport at Sumburgh.

The site was discovered during the 1970s when the airport was being expanded but it's only within the last decade that it has been fully excavated by Shetland Amenity Trust in partnership with Bradford University.

Each year, the remains are open to the public and there's a comprehensive programme of events, which this year will include demonstrations of woodwork, pottery, jewellery making, carving of soapstone and weaving of Viking-style textiles.

Historical re-enactments have always been part of the summer programme and this year is no exception, with a visit by the Walhalla Vikings from Poland expected to draw crowds.

There is a small visitor centre on the site, but the Shetland Amenity Trust has ambitious plans to enclose and protect the ancient settlement within a sensitively-designed building.

International Conference Looks At Island Cultures

On the second weekend in May, the Shetland Museum and Archives hosts a major conference that will examine the culture of a range of islands, but especially Shetland, and look at the role of island identity in economic development.

Speakers at the event will come from, among other places, Denmark, Estonia, Malta, Sweden, Slovenia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and the Isle of Man. They'll consider a wide range of island topics, including migration, musical heritage, language, guising traditions, the formation of identity and reputation and the way these are used in branding and marketing islands.

There will also be presentations on island autonomy. It promises to be a fascinating weekend for all the participants.

There are more details of the programme on the conference website.

Work On New Arts Venue To Start Soon

Building work is expected to get under way soon on Shetland's newest cultural asset, called Mareel; in Shetland dialect, the word means the phosphorescence sometimes seen in the sea.

The £12m project will result in two new cinema screens and a first class music performance space, together with video and audio studios, a café/bar and related facilities.

The new building will occupy a waterside site near the acclaimed Shetland Museum and Archives and in an area that's emerging as a cultural quarter, with private sector publishing, marketing and television firms already established nearby.

Canadian Expats Enjoy Shetland Oatcakes

Shetland takes pride in producing a wide range of food; just how wide is clear from the islands' Food Directory.

High-quality fish and shellfish and succulent lamb and mutton make up the largest part of the food that's exported.

However, one local firm, the Walls Bakery, has just scored an export success with its oatcakes, which have found their way to Britgrocer, a specialist outlet in Ontario that keeps homesick Britons supplied with everything from Marks and Spencer soups to sherbet fountains, and much else besides.

Flag Day: Unusual Sightings Sought

Shetland's Flag Day is 21 June, the longest day of the year.

In 2009, it's the subject of a photographic competition that aims to record the flying of the Shetland flag in novel locations or settings.

Full details of the competition will be available soon on the Johnsmas Foy website but you can send good-quality images by e-mail to Johnsmas Foy organiser, Nicola Halcrow, at .

Please include your full contact details including address and telephone numbers.

Bag Scheme Aims To Cut Carbon

Shetland's recently-appointed Carbon Reduction Officer, Harriet Bolt, has developed a new initiative that should help Shetland reduce its carbon footprint by around 40 tonnes a year.

Shops are being encouraged to collect and re-use plastic bags in order to cut the number of new bags required. In the first phase of the scheme, a number of rural shops have signed up, but larger outlets in Lerwick are expected to join in soon.

Two Shetlanders Feature In List Of 'Green Heroes'

The drawing up of a list of the 50 people in Scotland who've contributed most to sustainable development has resulted in the inclusion of two Shetlanders.

Barry Sinclair, from Fair Isle, came in at number 29. He has been in charge of the island's energy schemes since the first wind turbine was commissioned in 1982.

Ross Gazey is a pioneer in the field of hydrogen energy and runs the PURE project on the island of Unst. PURE offers advice on renewables, particularly hydrogen, and has developed, among other projects, a hydrogen-powered car.

Taking the number one spot were Karen and Mike Small, who developed the 'Fife Diet', based on growing and eating local produce.

There's more about the 'Green List' on the website of the Sustainable Development Commission.

Biogas From Fish Could Be Future Fuel

The NAFC Marine Centre, in Scalloway, is working with Newcastle University to develop a means of turning waste material from the fishing industry into biogas, which could be used directly as a fuel or indirectly to produce electricity. They aim to build a pilot plant that would use anaerobic digestion to produce the gas.

If the trials are successful, it's hoped that the process could be established on a commercial scale.

Television Crime Series Moves A Step Closer

The interest in making a television crime series based on Anne Cleeves' Shetland detective stories that we reported in last month's newsletter has firmed up.

A team from the production company involved has been checking out locations and facilities in the islands and Anne Cleeves has given this interview to The Scotsman newspaper.

She explains the background to her quartet of Shetland novels, of which three volumes, Raven Black, White Nights and Red Bones, have already been published.

If all goes well, it may not be too long before Detective Jimmy Perez appears on our screens.

Innovative New Building Brings Business Support Services Together

A new Business Gateway, offering a wide range of information and advice for business people, has just opened in Lerwick.

The Gateway, housed in an innovative new building called the Solarhus, is a collaboration between the Shetland Islands Council's Economic Development Unit and Highlands and islands Enterprise.

Staff of both agencies have recently moved into the new, German-designed offices.

The new structure is intended to generate much of its own heating using sophisticated solar collectors and heat recovery.

Stick Insects Make Rare Appearance

Among the more unusual visitors to this year's Shetland Science and Technology Fair will be stick insects from Edinburgh Zoo.

The Fair, which is particularly aimed at engaging young people in science, will also feature robots and there will be opportunities to try out a ship's bridge simulator, stargaze in a planetarium and learn about composting.

The event runs from 18 to 22 May.

Record Numbers Clean Up Shetland

For many years, Shetland has had an annual Spring clean, or in local parlance, Voar redd-up, in which volunteers don rubber gloves and wellies to rid the islands' beaches and roadsides of the litter that has accumulated over the past twelve months.

There's always a good turnout and, at the time of writing, an astonishing 4,157 volunteers - around 19% of the adult population - had registered to take part in this year's event, during which they will tackle litter on 220 sites.

Even better news is that the amount of rubbish collected seems to be slightly down.

Lots To See At Shetland's Galleries

As always, Shetland's various gallery spaces have a variety of work on display.

At Da Gadderie in the Shetland Museum, there's an exhibition by Sue Jane Taylor, an artist who has devoted much of her time to documenting the North Sea oil industry.

Her work is hard-edged and often dark and stormy, but splashed with vibrant industrial colour. It conveys very well the power and energy of the industry and whilst the notion of oil installations as art objects may be unconventional, her approach is entirely convincing.

Also in the museum, there's a display of photography by secondary school children from across Scotland, the results of the Focus Environment competition.

The photographs selected for display can be seen here; they demonstrate an abundance of photographic talent among young people, with many outstanding shots.

At the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, the main attraction is a short animated film, 'Yes I Can', produced by Davy Inkster, Susan Timmins, Freya Inkster, Eva Cumming and Leah Cumming, all of Burra Isle, Shetland.

The film tells the story of a pig whose ambition is to fly and who refuses to be put off the idea by the other animals on the croft. It's a captivating tale, wittily illustrated, and a remarkable debut in animation.

Also at Bonhoga is an exhibition of 'building biographies' highlighting some of the most interesting buildings designed by architects in the Highlands and Islands.

It's part of the Access to Architecture Programme sponsored by the Scottish Government; the exhibition can be seen online here.

Osteopath Helps Otter Back To Health

A young otter named Kirikou that had lost the use of her back legs is being nursed back to health with the help of an animal osteopath, Tony Nevin.

Jan and Pete Bevington, who run the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, a charity based in Shetland's north mainland, approached him to see if he could restore her mobility. It rapidly became clear that she could use her legs and, with more therapy, there seems to be every chance that Kirikou will make a good recovery.

And finally...

Spring has sprung in Shetland. Wild flowers are everywhere, but the arrivals guaranteed to induce the loudest 'ooohs' and 'aaahs' are the new-born lambs; and this year, as this photo shows, some of them are dressed for any weather.

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