A CHARITY in Islay says it has taken “more than 3000” birds to landfill sites after they washed up on a nearby beach with avian flu.

The disease is widespread across Scotland with gannets, great skua and guillemots in particular being hard hit.

Thomasina Glover works for Islay Development Initiative – an environmental charity which operates a project called Beach Watch which aims to clean up marine waste that washes up onto the sand.

Speaking to The National, she said: “A few weeks ago we started seeing lots and lots of dead birds washing up on the beach.

“We found there wasn’t a protocol for their removal and that we were just expected to leave them there but they were accumulating in significant numbers."

The image below shows the devastating impact avian flu has had on the gannets living at Bass Rock, off the coast of East Lothian.

The National: Image: Scottish Seabird CentreImage: Scottish Seabird Centre

Glover continued: “We’ve taken over 3000 birds to landfill. The birds coming in on the tide are avian flu birds so our protocol is we have to wear full PPE, protective suits, masks, goggles and gloves.”

Avian flu is an infectious type of influenza which spreads amongst birds.

It isn’t usually spread amongst humans but on Thursday Nature Scot called for no more public landings of boats at 23 Scottish islands.

The list included the Isle of May and Noss in Shetland.

Glover continued: “We have a beautiful beach but we’re in hazmat gear and there’s people in swimsuits so I have to tell them to put shoes on or to make sure to disinfect their feet.

“We need capacity and resources to keep doing this. If they’re expecting rangers to deal with dead birds then local authorities need to provide funding for that.

"We don't mind doing it. It's heavy and dirty work but we're used to that. 

“We don’t know where they’re going to land next. It seems there have been a couple of events with big populations of birds and that’s the cause of them all landing on the beaches.”

Glover also expressed concern about how this could impact some of Islay's native species.

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“It certainly can spread. The fact that it’s on Islay and you’ve got live birds arriving on the shore with the virus means transmission to our native stock is probably guaranteed,” she said.

Although things have got better since the birds were first sighted on the beach, Glover said it would be some time before things properly cleared up.

“We found 26 birds on the beach on Thursday so we’ve gone from about finding 600 in a 50m stretch to maybe 10 or 20 birds.

“It looks like we’re over the peak but I was speaking with experts at Nature Scot who are still expecting this to continue for some time.”

She further noted how things are slightly easier for them because they have access to a landfill site where the birds can be disposed of whereas other communities do not.

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are working with Nature Scot to tackle the issue.

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.