Noss Nature Reserve reopened following avian flu outbreak

Noss National Nature Reserve has reopened to the public following the island’s closure last year due to avian flu.

The Noss ferry has resumed service this season and NatureScot staff are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to the island, which is home to thousands of seabirds each summer.

Last summer both Noss and the Isle of May were closed to help protect seabirds from a devastating outbreak of avian flu.

Seabird populations were hit hard, including those on Noss, as avian flu swept through great skua (bonxie) and gannet colonies. 

The virus continues to circulate widely in wild bird populations across the UK and beyond.

The Scottish Avian Influenza Task Force, led by NatureScot, is continuing work to understand how the virus is transmitted within seabird colonies and what practical actions can be put in place to help seabirds cope in the event an outbreak happens again. 

Further targeted research and surveillance will continue throughout the season.

Gannets and Guillemots on the rockface, Isle of Noss

Gannets and Guillemots on the rockface, Isle of Noss NNR, Shetland

To allow access to islands, a series of biosecurity measures and ways to minimise disturbance to birds have been implemented, including disinfecting footwear and restricting access to certain areas when necessary. 

This will be kept under review as the season progresses.

Visitors to Noss will be asked to clean and disinfect footwear on arrival and departure to help prevent the transmission of the virus.

Juan Brown, NatureScot operations officer in Shetland, said: ‘Last year was incredibly difficult as we saw avian flu sweep through our seabird colonies.

‘At Noss we saw the breeding population of great skuas, or bonxies, fall by 78%, while breeding numbers of gannets dropped by 17%.

‘Closing the island was a very difficult decision, but was necessary in the unprecedented circumstances. 

‘We’re now looking forward to being able to welcome people back to enjoy one of the most important seabird colonies in Scotland.

‘We’d like to thank visitors to Noss for following the biosecurity measures that will be in place to help protect our precious seabird populations.’

Read more stories on Scottish Field’s wildlife pages.

Plus, don’t miss the June issue of Scottish Field magazine.