A look back at 2021
Published: 05 January 2022
2021 has been a year of huge challenges for us, both personally and professionally. We are still coming to terms with the untimely passing of our much-loved friend and colleague Davy Cooper, who did so much for Shetland’s heritage, generously sharing his expertise and knowledge. With a year of forced closures, cancellations, and uncertainties it has been a time for us to rethink, adapt and find new ways of working to preserve and shine a light on Shetland’s natural and cultural heritage.
We launched our first online virtual exhibition, ‘Fair Game’ at the beginning of the year which examined abandoned traditions. When we were able to reopen the Museum and Archives in March we introduced a new booking system enabling us to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for visitors and staff and a much needed meeting space for key support groups. Our team have worked hard to create a safe and enjoyable experience for visitors to the Museum and Archives and as a result were rewarded with a TripAdvisor ‘Travellers’ Choice Award’. This is awarded to venues that consistently earn great reviews and is ranked within the top 10% of properties on TripAdvisor.
Visitors to Da Gadderie were able to enjoy a new collaborative exhibition with local carpenter Eve Eunson showcasing Fair Isle chairs from the Museum collection alongside Eve’s own research into the craft and examples of her own work. For those who couldn’t attend in person, a virtual tour and interview between Eve and curator Ian Tait was created and is shared on our YouTube channel. We then hosted a stunning exhibition from local artist and sculptor Roberta Fulford and have recently welcomed a display of children’s author Ann Marie Anderson’s Peerie Oorick characters. Our holiday activities continued to be popular with local children and families and a particular highlight was our spooky ‘Night at the Museum’.
We were excited to host the ‘Shetland’ television cast and crew and see the museum featured in the latest series. What an insight that was to see the painstaking work required to pull each scene together. We have also made our first steps into bringing the popular winter lecture series back to our calendar, and a well-attended and fascinating talk on Shetland’s 'witches' took place last month. We are really pleased to be working with the newly formed Shetland Martime Heritage Trust for the provision of volunteer crew for the sixareen Vaila Mae, so expect to see it out on the water for many years to come.
The Crofthouse Museum and Scatness unfortunately remained closed to the public due to Covid restrictions. This did allow for improvements and maintenance, including the long planned rethatching of the Crofthouse roof using traditional Shetland black oats, the first time we have been able to get this authentic traditional thatching materials in over 20 years.
2021 marked the 200th anniversary of the Lighthouse at Sumburgh Head. Our opening season kicked off in style during the Easter holidays with a blast of the fog horn, along with family activities, and the opening of Katja Stubiger’s new Unken Kaffee, with arguably one of the best views in Shetland.
Throughout the year an extensive programme of events took place which included Lighthouse tours, Wartime trails, guided walks, wildlife events, talks and a book launch. We were honoured to take part and support the ‘Light the North’ trail and displayed four amazing lighthouse art sculptures to help raise awareness for CLAN Cancer Support. To end the season, the lighthouse received a fresh lick of paint and the building is now looking bright and sparkly: a visible beacon of light and hope.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, we had to take the decision to postpone our physical Shetland Wool Week event. We went ‘virtual’ for the second year running and we are so grateful to Wilma Malcolmson, our SWW patron, who agreed to stay on for a second year, and designed her beautiful Da Crofter’s Kep which was launched in April. So far the free hat pattern, which was designed in five different colourways using Shetland wool, has been downloaded over 50,000 times. The nine-day online event took place at the end of September and included a programme of online activities, workshops, tours and films in collaboration with local tutors who rose to the challenge. It was a truly collaborative effort which captured the spirit of the physical event. Soon after, the popular SWW Annual, now in its seventh edition, was published, featuring textile related features and patterns from local knitwear and weaving designers, all with Shetland wool at its heart.
Turning to Shetland’s natural heritage, volunteer recorders continued to submit regular sightings and data to the Shetland Biological Records Centre which now holds nearly 338,000 records. One particular highlight was the publication of aScientific Paper on Shetland’s wading birds as a result of a 19 year citizen science project which involved the work of over 70 volunteers, led by the Trust. The result showed that Shetland’s breeding wader populations are either stable or declining slightly, bucking the national trend of a marked decline.
We were pleased to secure funding for two Peatland Action projects in Shetland helping to restore large areas of degraded bog. Healthy peatlands store and absorb carbon, more than all other vegetation types in the world combined and their value is increasingly being recognised on the global stage. We also hosted a ‘Bog Day’ and multiple workshops where we shared information with the public on the wonders of peatlands as well as explaining our activities, future aspirations and opportunities for this essential terrestrial ecosystem.
October saw the launch of the world’s first digital UNESCO trail, including the Shetland UNESCO Global Geopark. This trail is an exciting new opportunity to be linked to the other UNESCO sites and we hope that it will mean that new audiences will discover what an ancient and yet dynamic and pure environment Shetland has.
The annual beach and roadside clean, Da Voar Redd Up was revitalised this year when we teamed up with Marine Conservation Society. The event had to be adapted to avoid large groups, but in total 11 beaches and 16 tonnes of rubbish was collected.
Our Woodlands team have been busy working on woodlands stock post lockdown with a massive 10,000 seedlings germinated this year, double that of 2019. With assistance from HIE we also recruited a new graduate to the team to help us support community woodlands groups and land managers and contribute to the journey to Net Zero. There are lots of exciting and ambitious plans ahead.
We look forward to 2022 which will no doubt be another year of change and we look forward to the new opportunities it will bring. We wish everyone the best for the coming year and hope to welcome you all back to our sites, activities and events and to work together for the benefit of Shetland’s natural and cultural heritage both now and in the future.