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Last visitors flock to Isle of May before seabirds go into bird flu lockdown

Cherry Kelsey, Pat Stevenson and Pinky Agnew on the May Princess.
Cherry Kelsey, Pat Stevenson and Pinky Agnew on the May Princess.

Day trippers to the Isle of May in the Forth have backed the decision to close the island amid the current bird flu outbreak.

The birds on the island off the coast of Fife go into lockdown on Friday.

“I think they’re absolutely doing the right thing,” says Pinky Agnew.

“As a New Zealander, we go hard and we go early. That’s what we did with covid.”

Pinky, 66, from Wellington in New Zealand, is on holiday in Scotland.

She is among the last visitors allowed on to the Isle of May before the restrictions.

Gannet colony devastated

NatureScot is closing the Isle of May to visitors in a bid to contain the spread of a strain of H5N1 bird flu which has devastated the gannet colony on the nearby Bass Rock.

Avian flu is hitting seabird colonies across Scotland in what conservationists at the RSPB have described as an “unprecedented outbreak”.

The May Princess arrives back to Anstruther.
The May Princess arrives back to Anstruther.

Pinky’s friend Pat Stevenson, of South Queensferry, also took the trip on the May Princess from Anstruther.

“We feel very fortunate to be among the last people to visit the island,” says Pat, 69.

“It was an absolute delight, the whole thing.

“It’s very sad, this business with avian flu.

“But we totally understand their decision to protect the birds.”

No need to cancel say tour operators

At Anstruther, in Fife’s East Neuk, boat trips to the Isle of May draw visitors from around the world.

They are fully booked during the summer months.

Tour operators Osprey of Anstruther and Anstruther Pleasure Cruises, who run the May Princess, will still be taking people around the island by boat after the closure.

bird flu
Rab Deas.

Rab Deas, who runs Osprey of Anstruther boat tours, is urging those who have booked boat tours not to cancel.

He says there is still plenty to see from the boat.

“You’ll see thousands of birds.

“Everything is in the water just now to feed their young. So what’s on the island is in the water.”

He is processing cancellations and says the closure of the island is having a “massive” effect on his business.

“The repercussions for us and the Princess are big.

“That’s what our livelihood is. Getting people out to see the May.”

The Isle of May is home to around 200,000 seabirds.

And the 80,000 puffins which come to breed on the island in summer are a huge draw for tourists.

NatureScot is closing the Isle of May as a precaution to protect its colonies including puffins, terns, razorbills, shags and guillemots.

So far the island’s feathered inhabitants appear to have escaped the bird flu outbreak.

But gannets from the Bass Rock colony have been found dead on beaches up and down the east coast of Scotland.

Holidaymakers not put off by bird flu measures

Audrey and Pete Watson are on holiday in the area, and are still keen to try out a boat trip.

“I came along today to find out the times of the boat,” said Pete, 56, of Leven.

“I’d still go on the boat. I understand why they wouldn’t want us to go on the island.”

Audrey and Pete Watson.

He added that he had seen dead birds on the beach at Anstruther the previous day.

Bill and Ellen Stangroom are touring around Scotland having flown in from Boston.

Bill and Ellen Stangroom.

Ellen, 65, didn’t think visitors would be put off by the bird flu restrictions.

“If you’re coming here to go on the boat, you’re going to go on it regardless.

“You also want to support local people who are making their living from these trips.”

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