Orkney Islands Council is proud of its workforce – many of whom will be your friends, neighbours or relatives - with over a quarter of Orkney’s working population employed with the local authority.
A closer look at some of our 2,700 staff has revealed a treasure trove of community-spirited and selfless individuals.
Despite only scratching the surface, we have already found many Council staff who are giving their time freely and willingly to benefit others. Those who are – outwith their local authority jobs – helping others to lead better and safer lives, improving the communities we all live in.
They don’t just ensure that vital services continue to operate at all times – they also go the extra mile through volunteering or charitable work at home and away.
We want to share some of their stories with you.
One of the Council’s Building Inspectors - Leslie Miller - has played a significant role in ensuring Orkney retains its rightful place as one of the premier destinations in the UK for fly fishers.
Freshwater courses through his veins, as he lives and breathes fishing during his spare time – it may not surprise you to read that his home in Harray sits overlooking the loch and he readily admits that some may call it an “obsession” rather than an interest!
Leslie, 58, has been a member of the Orkney Trout Fishing Association (OTFA) for more than 30 years, sitting in a volunteer capacity - as all members do - on various committees and management groups such as sites, environmental, hatchery, competitions and entertainment during this time.
He said: “We have a good membership of locals and visitors (mid hundreds) and a healthy competition scene which involves competing in south competitions at the highest level. Orkney has earned respect from anglers all over the country and further afield for their skill and knowledge in the sport with the club having Scottish champions and international caps amongst its members - no mean feat when you consider the thousands of anglers who compete every year.
“Unlike a lot of other UK fishing venues, in the past the OTFA made a conscious decision to keep its waters for wild brown trout only, and this has paid huge dividends as Orkney has for many years been considered as a top destination to fish for wild brown trout. This, in turn, generates huge revenue for the people of Orkney every year with the number of visiting anglers who make it their holiday destination, most returning on a regular basis.”
Leslie has been a Building Inspector with OIC for 21 years, and his role entails providing a comprehensive Building Inspector, Clerk of Works and Building User Liaison Service for the Council across all departments.
“Lockdown has affected all employees to a greater or lesser extent, fortunately the Building Inspectors who spend time out on sites were already exploring mobile working to a certain degree which made the transition easier and we could more or less hit the ground running from day one of first lockdown to provide a service to the public and all the building users.”
The lockdown also stopped all competition angling last year and the various stages of lockdown became a bitter pill to swallow for local anglers who couldn’t get out on the water, despite being hundreds of yards away from the nearest living soul.
Leslie explained: “Anglers tend to suffer from cabin fever during the winter months when the fishing is closed and the need to get out in the fresh air and on the water after a long winter is strong and opening day of the season can’t come soon enough.
“Unfortunately, COVID had other ideas. The OTFA held some emergency meetings by Zoom and decided to lead the way by cancelling all competitions and follow the guidelines to the letter. We were conscious that other fisheries would look to how the OTFA would react to the guidelines, a sign of the respect that has been built up over the years.”
Leslie somewhat unusually started his interest in fishing for trout in the sea and not the lochs.
“There isn’t much of the Orkney coastline I haven’t explored at one time or another in pursuit of sea trout. Some of my fondest memories are of days out in the wildest of Orkney weather on opening day the 25th Feb.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have fished venues all over the country from the chalk waters of Hampshire and Devon to the big waters of the Midlands, various small and larger waters in Scotland to the isolated lochs of Shetland. Some of the scenery is truly breathtaking and there is nothing like drifting down a loch in a small dinghy flanked by mountains in Scotland to put things into perspective.”
He continued: “The competitive nature of the fishing is only one side of it, the other is enjoying the outdoors and all it has to offer from red letter days to days when you hardly raise a fish. There are occasions when you are rewarded with an otter keeping you company for a while or watching an osprey pluck a decent trout out the water in front of you, both of which are better fishers than us mere mortals I doubt!
“The memories are too numerous to recount but I would say when I take somebody out for their first time, give them some tuition and a wild Orkney trout bursts out of the water to engulf the fly and they manage to keep hold of it and get it in the net, whether they are 5 or 85, the look of sheer joy on their faces is always the same and something you never tire of seeing.”
As in any other sport to get the results means putting in the effort.
“In fly fishing this means learning boat skills, reading the water and conditions, studying Entomology (that will have some of you hitting the Google button) then the correct density of line, the right choice of fly, the method on the day and being able to adapt all that at a moment’s notice to get the best results. It’s not unusual for a competition fly fishers tackle box to contain 12 to over 20 different fly lines and the high hundreds of different flies which can be named.
“The competition angler tends to tie his own flies, and this can be a mind-boggling subject using traditional feathers and fur to the infinite range of manmade materials and basically anything that catches the fly tiers eye.
“Competition rules dictate the hook is a maximum of 15/16ths (15.8mm) in length and 15/16ths (23.8mm) when dressed, not a lot to work with and not unusual to have a dozen types of material used on a single fly - an art in its own right.
“With hundreds of flies with weird and wonderful names, the fly fisher learns a whole new language. So, if you overhear a couple of folk on the street discussing that Harray’s on fire at the Golden triangle with a Naked Boris on a 5 sweep, stripping fast and hanging. Don’t be alarmed and start calling the emergency services - it’s just a couple of fly fishers passing on information. Translation - Harray Loch - the trout are feeding hard in a certain well known area and can be caught on a certain named fly with a line that sinks at a rate of 5 inches per second, retrieved back at speed then the rod lifted up and flies held for a few seconds at a certain depth to induce the trout to take!”
In these strange and challenging times, when many have found the going pretty tough, Leslie is reminded of the time he had the honour of being a ghillie for the Fly Fishing Internationals held in Orkney.
“This was the second time Orkney had been chosen - a huge two year undertaking for the OTFA to organise and a testament to the quality of Orkney fishing to be picked as the venue for the final, securing its position in the angling world as one of the top wild trout fisheries.
“On the day of the final I was drawn to be ghillie for one of the young Welsh hot shots and a very experienced Irishman probably 30 years his senior. I had the company of the Welshman on some of the practice days so knew he was a force to be reckoned with at this level of the sport. Sure enough the young Welshman was soon moving and consistently taking trout to the boat but the Irishman was struggling to even get a fish to look at his flies let alone catch one. The pressure was on him especially when fishing for your team and country, then just to add insult to injury the heavens opened up and the wind increased making things decidedly uncomfortable; and still the young gun pulled in fish increasing his and his countries chances at the weigh-in.
“I looked at the older man who by this time had his head down and looking in his fly boxes for a miracle fly that would get him back in the game and in true ghillie style tried to give some encouragement ‘Things will change shortly when this rain passes, they’ll switch onto your flies soon’.
“The auld fella looked up from his soaked and weather-beaten face and with a glint in his eyes whispered, ‘Don’t you be worried lad, sure every day above the ground tis a good day!’ Wise words from an old angler who had been around the block a few times.”