Posted by: The ocean update | January 2, 2016

Islanders to turn spy base into whale-listening station (Scotland, UK)

The former spy base on the Isle of Lewis.

The former spy base on the Isle of Lewis.

January 2nd, 2016. One of Britain’s remotest and smallest communities is about to take ownership in days of a former Cold War spy base in the Outer Hebrides, to turn it into a whale-listening station and observatory.

The isolated surveillance station at RAF Aird Uig, on the Isle of Lewis, was built to give early warning of a Soviet attack, following the end of the Second World War.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advance of satellite technology made the base eventually became obsolete and its radar was dismantled redundant and thea pair of long-distance radars which had protected the UK for decades were dismantled.

The Gallan Head Community Trust (GHCT) will now use a £200,000 grant from the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) to purchase the land from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and turn a nearby building into a visitor centre.

A spokesman for the trust confirmed today that The transfer is scheduled to formally go through next week.

The trust plans to demolish some of the buildings at Aird Uig. Working with partners including the University of St Andrews and Stornoway Astronomical Society, it will convert the former base into a tourist attraction featuring an astronomical observatory, gallery and visitor centre, in a project that could cost between £1m and £3m.

They will also install underwater microphones to record whales and basking sharks which swim through the peninsula.

Trust chairman Martin Hayes said : “We are thrilled as this SLF award means that we can complete our community buyout of MoD land and progress our plans for social enterprise.

“For the first time in many decades, local people will be able to enjoy the unique Gallan Head peninsula. We hope to have the visitor centre open by next summer.

“The award means our community can now create opportunities to help local businesses, restore and conserve our remarkable natural environment, and create interest, enjoyment, and learning opportunities for visitors. The overall project could cost somewhere between £1m and £3m but we are confident we can raise the money.”

Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Professor John Brown is patron of the project.
GHCT has also joined forces with the University of St Andrews and Stornoway Astronomical Society as part of its Cetus Project.

Stornoway Astronomical Society will work with GHCT on the phased development of the observatory on the Gallan Head peninsula.

Meanwhile, Fife-based SA Instrumentation Ltd will provide assistance and equipment to monitor marine wildlife sounds and movements from the location, across Loch Roag to Old Hill and Berisay.

A spin-out company of the University of St Andrews, SA Instrumentation are pioneers in real time autonomous acoustic detection, using their Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) process for marine mammal monitoring.

Gallan Head is a small peninsula at Aird Uig at the most north-westerly tip of the UK, which has been hidden from the public for many decades.

The area has no light pollution and, on a clear night, the Milky Way appears to the naked eye as an almost solid band across the sky.

However the costs of cleaning up the old base had been feared at up to £500,000.

But Mr Hayes said that figure had been reduced to £50,000 after a reassessment of what constituted a “hazard” to the village.

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