Bird flu panic: Scots outbreak declared ‘national emergency’ – tourists banned from isles |  Science |  news

Bird flu panic: Scots outbreak declared ‘national emergency’ – tourists banned from isles | Science | news

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has called for more action urgently to tackle the present outbreak, which they dub a “national emergency”.

RSPB Scotland officer Dave Sexton, who is based on the Isle of Mull, said the outbreak is of significant concern and has left him feeling “helpless”.

He told STV News: “We’re getting more and more birds washing up, seabirds mostly, and we really need the government to develop a national wild bird response plan.

“It’s not good enough to say we can’t do anything. It feels pretty helpless when there are dead and dying birds around, but there are things we can do.”

WARNING: This article contains images some may find distressing

Mr Sexton reported that he has recently found dead white-tailed eagle chicks in a nest on the Isle of Mull — and although he is awaiting test results for confirmation, he suspects that they died as a result of the avian flu.

He said: “White-tailed eagles are great scavengers and they’ll sit up in a tree and watch.

“If they see something dead on the shorelines like [a] gannet, like gulls, or something struggling at sea, that’s an easy meal for them.

“They’re going in, taking the sea birds and taking them back to the nests to feed their chicks.”

Two weeks ago, NatureScot — the government agency previously known as Scottish National Heritage — advised that visits landing on 23 small islands across Scotland should cease until this year’s lot of chicks have fledged.

Islands covered by the ban include those populated by breeding puffins, Arctic skuas and Arctic terns — specifically the Calf of Eday, Swona, Muckle Skerry, Craigleith, Inchmickery and the Isle of May — where the ban is in force until the end of August.

Landings on Noss, Glas Eileanan, Lamb and Fidra, meanwhile, are prohibited until mid-September for the sake of great skuas, common terns, cormorants and fulmars.

The longest ban will run until mid-October, and is intended to protect breeding gannets, storm petrels and Manx shearwaters.

This covers Ramna Stacks and Gruney in the Shetlands, Priest Island, the Treshnish Island, Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth and various islands in the Outer Hebrides including the Flannan Isles and parts of the St Kilda archipelago.

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Paul Mackinnon works for Staff Tours, a seabird sightseeing company which runs daily trips to both the Treshnish Isles and neighboring Staffa.

In accordance with the tourism ban, the firm is now no longer allowing tourists to step foot on the Treshnish Isles, where — to date — there have been no confirmed cases of bird flu.

Mr Kinnon told STV News that he was worried about the next breeding season, saying: “A big highlight of the trip is getting ashore on the Treshnish Isles to spend a few hours with the puffins, so going forward it would be a big worry.

“Another big issue is the decline in the amount of birds that we’re seeing.

“We’re hopeful it’s going to be a one-off and by next April we’ll be good to go back ashore in the Treshnish Isles, because it’ll be a big loss if people couldn’t get out there to see the wonderful bird.”

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While the risk from the virus to human health is considered very low, to limit the spread members of the public have been urged to steer clear of any birds they find dying — and to keep dogs away from them too.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government told STV News that it is “taking the situation very seriously and is working with partner organizations to monitor and respond.”

The authorities, they added, are “recognizing the importance of communication and coordination in preparedness and response.

“The newly-established Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) task force set up by NatureScot will coordinate activity to monitor and respond to the current HPAI outbreak which is impacting wild bird populations in Scotland.”

NatureScot deputy director Eileen Stuart told BBC News: “Restricting visits to these islands is not an easy decision, but we are increasingly concerned about the devastating impact avian flu is having in Scotland, particularly on our seabird colonies.

“Many of our Scottish islands are a haven for internationally important bird populations.

“With the avian flu crisis evolving so quickly, we have to respond to reduce the spread of this virulent disease.

“Tragically, this destructive disease could be with us for some time to come.”

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