PEOPLE are being advised not to visit dozens of Scottish islands in order to prevent the spread of avian flu.

NatureScot is calling for public landings to cease on 23 islands until the birds have finished breeding.

The list includes the Isle of May, which usually hosts over 11,000 visitors each year during the summer season.

Other sites include Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth and Noss in Shetland. 

Boat trips around the islands will still be permitted.

Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s deputy director of nature and climate change, said: “Restricting visits to these islands is not an easy decision, but we are increasingly concerned about the devastating impact avian flu is having in Scotland, particularly on our seabird colonies.

“Many of our Scottish islands are a haven for internationally important bird populations. With the avian flu crisis evolving so quickly, we have to respond to reduce the spread of this virulent disease.

“Tragically, this destructive disease could be with us for some time to come. In Scotland, with the new task force announced last week, we and our partners are committed to sharing our expertise and co-ordinating action on the ground.”

Avian flu is widespread across Scotland with gannets, great skua and guillemots being particularly hard hit.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) released figures for Scotland which currently show 537 confirmed cases among 28 species in Scotland.

However, NatureScot recognises that these figures are likely to be significant underestimates as they only include dead birds that have been reported and tested.

READ MORE: Drone footage reveals devastating impact of bird flu on the Bass Rock gannets

Alex Gardner, owner of Anstruther Pleasure Cruises and skipper of the May Princess, said the decision was a “massive hit” to his business.

Between April and September he would normally be running at full capacity taking people to and from the Isle of May.

He said: “We have to support NatureScot’s view on it but it is disappointing.

"We fully understand and respect the reason for the closure and the welfare of the seabirds is the most important thing at this time.

“We would normally be fully booked in July, it’s our busiest month. We are offering boat tours but the bulk of the people want to go onto the island.

“Right now we’re running at about 50%. It’s a massive hit, especially coming out of two years of Covid.

“We were just getting going again this year when avian flu hit.”

Scotland hosts internationally important populations of seabirds. Bass Rock, one of the sites mentioned in NatureScot’s advice, is home to 150,000 gannets, the largest colony of the species in the world.

Sample surveys of colonies show up to an 85% decline of great skua at colonies in Orkney and up to 25% decline in gannet numbers on colonies in Shetland.

This week NatureScot released guidance on how people can minimise the risks for both wild birds and people when it comes to avian flu

The public is being urged to report any sightings of dead birds to Defra on 03459 33 55 77 and to avoid coming into close contact with carcasses.