Salmon farmer’s homes boost for remote island

The Scottish Sea Farms site at Eday in the Orkney Islands

LEADING salmon producer Scottish Sea Farms has been granted approval to build six new eco-friendly homes on the remote island of Eday in Orkney.

The £750,000 development will create four new homes for employees of the nearby salmon farm, helping address an accommodation shortage, with a further two homes available to rent by islanders or visitors.

Scottish Sea Farms, together with local landowners Haydn Jones and Nick Lyde of Willowstream, are to build the homes within the secluded hamlet of Mill Bay on Eday, one of the smaller Orkney islands with just 76 habitable properties for a population of 129 people.

The company’s farm manager at Eday, Phil Boardman, said: ‘We’ve been farming on the island for over seven years now and while the conditions for growing salmon are superb, the remote location has made recruitment difficult.

‘Unless employees live on one of the nearby islands, such as Sanday, they face a two-hour commute by boat from Orkney mainland, then have to stay over on one of the islands until their next weekend off, leaving little time for family, food shopping or looking after home and garden.

‘The result is that we have seen valued employees leave with every crop cycle – they loved the job, just not the logistics that go with it.’

Boardman, whose first degree was in construction before he later studied Sustainable Aquaculture at the University of St Andrews, added: ‘Step one has been to introduce a two-week on, two-week off shift pattern, which is enabling the team to balance farm life and home life.

‘Step two, and equally critical, will be building these high spec houses for the team to go home to after each shift, sparing them the commute to other islands and ensuring they have a good quality of life.

‘We gave the team the choice of multi-bedroomed communal homes or single dwelling and the decision was unanimous – they wanted their own space.

‘The bonus of having the two rental homes, meanwhile, is that there will also be somewhere for visitors, contractors and auditors to stay.’

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Eday is at the centre of Orkney’s renewable energy sector, with a Surf n’ Turf project underway to convert surplus power from the European Marine Energy Centre’s tidal test site and the community owned 900kW wind turbine into hydrogen gas that can be stored and used on demand, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Scottish Sea Farms and Willowstream’s development is fittingly eco-friendly, featuring modular style accommodation, sustainable cedar wood cladding to help insulate and reduce overall energy use, and living sedum roofs which help reduce rainwater run-off, minimise erosion and absorb noise.

There will also be a packaged sewage treatment system and reed beds to separate and capture waste from water, offering a more ecological alternative to a septic tank.

And power will be wind generated from existing turbines, along with air source heat pumps which absorb warmth from the air outside and use it to heat homes.

There will also be extensive planting to help absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, plus polytunnels and a communal outside space with seating made from locally sourced stone.

One of the first Scottish Sea Farms’ employees to benefit from the new accommodation will be Charlotte Owen.

‘The two-week on, two-week off shift pattern has already made a huge difference, ensuring there’s sufficient time around work to leave the island, see family and friends, and generally catch up on all things life,’ she said.

‘The only downside is that, during my two weeks on, I’m having to stay in shared accommodation with colleagues, so the days of going home to my own space at the end of each shift can’t come soon enough.’

Groundworks for the development – to be called Millhaefen, Old Norse for sheltered inlet and harking back to Orkney’s history with Norway – will begin immediately and the homes should be completed in early spring 2020, in time for the next stock of salmon.

There has been strong support locally for the new homes, said Boardman: ‘From the architect, Orkney Islands Council planning team and local Sepa [Scottish Environment Protection Agency] office, to the contractors we’re using and our logistics partners Northwards, who will help transport the homes to the island, local partnerships have been key to making this project happen.

‘Get it right and this eco-friendly development could be the start of things to come for remote communities such as Eday.’

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