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Isle of May nature reserve to be closed to visitors over bird flu fears

The Isle of May.
The Isle of May.

A Fife nature reserve home to 80,000 puffins has banned visitors due to fears of a bird flu outbreak.

No members of the public will be allowed on the the Isle of May, off the Forth River, from July 1.

NatureScot made the announcement on Monday, saying the decision was made to prevent visitors unknowingly spreading avian flu to the island’s wildlife.

Unprecedented numbers” of wild birds have been reported dead due to the virus in recent months.

A puffin on the Isle of May.

The Isle of May is home to almost 300 species of seabird, including puffins, razorbills, shags, guillemots and oystercatchers.

During the summer breeding months it becomes a popular tourist destination, with daily ferries taking visitors across to spot some of the 200,000 seabirds.

An Arctic tern on the island.

While ferries will still be allowed to take visitors on cruises around the island, they will be banned from letting anyone land from the start of next month.

It is not known how long the ban will be imposed.

So far, no cases of avian flu have been recorded on the Isle of May.

NatureScot has also decided to close Noss National Nature Reserve, located on the Shetland island of Bressay.

NatureScot ‘increasingly concerned’ about bird flu on Isle of May

Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s deputy director of nature and climate change, said: “The decision to close these reserves has not been taken lightly, but we are increasingly concerned about the devastating impact avian flu is having in Scotland, particularly on our seabird colonies.

“Our island reserves in particular are a haven for internationally important bird populations.”

The Isle of May.

She added: “The situation has been rapidly evolving and deteriorating, and we feel at this time that restricting access to these sites, and reducing it at others, is a precautionary but proportionate approach that gives us the best chance of reducing the spread of the virus and its impact.

“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.

“Visitors will still be able to enjoy the summer seabird spectacle at both island reserves by taking round-island trips without coming ashore, and at other reserves by viewing from a short distance without crossing through colony areas.

“We will be keeping the situation under regular review over the coming weeks.”

‘Massive impact’

Anstruther Pleasure Cruises offers trips to the island.

Owner Alec Gardner is concerned about what this means for his business.

He said: “I’m not surprised to hear about the decision.

“Obviously it’s going to have a massive impact on us.

“We do daily landing trips and we’re fully booked for the next few weeks.

“We’re still going to do round the island trips but I’m not sure whether our customers will be satisfied with that.

“We’ve not been told when people will be allowed back on the island, but the indication is that it will be a relatively short time.”

Meet the Isle of May workers who protect our puffins

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