Do you remember what you were doing 20 years ago, on the 5th of January 1993?  I do. I was a local Shetland lass who loved nature and suddenly this happened -

The Braer oil tanker ran aground at Garths Ness, and started leaking more than 80,000 tonnes of light crude oil.

With the Braer Anniversary this weekend, I've been taking a peerie walk down Memory Lane.  I was a teenager, living just a mile or so from the wreck site and Wildlife Response Centre, which was based in the local Scout Hut.  I simply had to volunteer to help with dealing with the wildlife casualties.  I’ve memories of walking coastlines, collecting dead or oiled birds and other wildlife, observing and recording the oil, birds, otters, seals, fish and other marine life.  Oh, and the weather - it was wild to say the least!

I remember the media descended on the islands, I think increasing the population by ten percent!  It was strange to have the eyes of the world watching events around my community.


At the time, I didn’t understand the complexities of what was going on with the Wildlife Response Co-ordinating Committee, the politics and such like.  I just wanted to help.  It was certainly a time of emotion and experience for everyone and was a life changing event for me.  Actually, it’s probably a reason why I now work for the RSPB!  Now I can look back with more experienced eyes and better appreciate the work of all the individuals and organisations that did their bit to help.  You can read Shetland’s oil spill contingency planning and response here on the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group site.

Looking through photos today, I felt a bit teary seeing the suffering and dead animals again.  That side of things was dreadfully saddening, and it was the worry that we all felt - how bad would it be?  I also feel glad and proud to have met some fantastic people, people who came together in horrible conditions to help.

I am going to take the local Shetland RSPB Wildlife Explorer Group to the site on Sunday – exactly twenty years and one day after the tanker grounded. There's no sign of the ship now.  Instead, we'll be looking for porpoises, seals, great-northern divers, long-tailed ducks, rock pipits and so on. It’ll be easy to describe the effects of oil pollution to the bairns and how individuals and organisations can help.  The difficulty comes trying to communicate the problems that we face now, like the shocking amount of rubbish littering our sea and shore and climate change.

They’re big big issues that makes dealing with the Braer oil spill seem simple in comparison.  The problems are not insurmountable though and in twenty years time I’ll surely be blogging that I am proud of the individuals and organisations who have successfully tackled these problems.  Won't I?  We can all do something and you can find out about the steps you can take to help nature through the RSPB website.

Best wishes from windswept Sumburgh Head.

  • I was up in Shetland in 1994 and went to a beach on the west coast and you could still see some oil globules in the sand. I've been back many times since and thankfully all the beaches are back to looking spectacular. Am heading up in the spring to visit family and do some bird watching and always enjoy my time there. Will pop down to Sumburgh Head as well.

  • The WEX meeting was great! It's always a pleasure sharing nature with young people.  I reckon it's good for your health. Also, I did one final risk assessment on Saturday and happened across a grey phalarope - fancy that!