A Scottish island closed to the public due to fears of avian flu transmission is to be re-opened.  

Five weeks after the decision to essentially quarantine the Isle of May, Government Agency NatureScot has confirmed that visitors will soon be allowed back on the national nature reserve. 

The island, in the Firth of Forth, is home to important breeding colonies of puffins and other birds including  Kittiwakes, Razorbill, Oystercatchers and the European Shag. 

Conservationists say the island is now safe for tourists as the breeding season is coming to an end and many birds have departed.  

However, Some restrictions and biosecurity measures will remain.  

Puffins breed on the island

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 remains crucial. 

NatureScot said that it while was too early to say how the outbreak of H5N1 flu had affected the island’s population of birds, some species have been able to breed.  

Seabird colonies on 23 other islands around Scotland remain closed to public landings, as they are still home to hundreds of thousands of breeding seabirds.  

At other coastal reserves such as Hermaness in Shetland, NatureScot has asked visitors not to walk through seabird colonies but to enjoy the spectacle from a distance.

Puffins breed on the island

Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s Deputy Director of Nature & 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.”