THE Isle of May is to be reopened to the public following a quarantine imposed five weeks ago to lessen the risk of avian flu transmission.

The Scottish island, based in the Firth of Forth, was lifted from quarantine as the majority of the seabirds have now left the island following the completion of their breeding season. Visitors to the island will be asked to remain on paths, and biosecurity measures will be in place on boats and on the island. 

The virus has been found to stay on the ground and in bird faeces for a long time, so restricting access to any areas that still have nesting seabirds and taking simple steps to disinfect boots and clean clothing is crucial, says Scottish Government agency NatureScot.

Concerns were raised in June, after hundreds of dead seabirds were found washed up on Scotland’s coastlines, following a severe outbreak of avian flu across Scotland. Tens of thousands of birds were killed, and there is no cure. 

Seabird colonies on 23 other islands around Scotland remain closed to public landings, as they are still home to around 200,000 breeding seabirds. These include guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and shags in addition to Arctic terns and puffins.

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Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s deputy director of nature and climate change, said: “We hope the restrictions limited the spread of avian flu on the Isle of May, although more research is needed to confirm this in the coming months. We are grateful for the ongoing support from local boat operators during this challenging period.  

“On those islands which are still occupied by nesting seabirds, we’d ask for patience, as the restrictions are our best chance to reduce the spread of this deadly virus. We recognise that this will be disappointing for those planning a visit, but we hope people understand that this is about protecting our precious seabird populations for the future. We will continue to keep the situation under regular review over the coming weeks.”

At other coastal NNRs such as Hermaness in Shetland, NatureScot has asked visitors not to walk through seabird colonies but to enjoy the spectacle from a distance. Local signage is in place at those reserves affected.

The UK Health Security Agency has stated that avian influenza poses a very low risk to the general public’s health.