Monday 13th June comments: The Isle of May was designated a National Nature Reserve in 1956 for its importance to seabirds as the island supports vast numbers of Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Shags, Razorbills, Eider amongst many more. Over the last few decades, our seabirds have had to deal with huge pressures including climate change, lack of prey, deaths through entanglement and development pressures amongst many other things. However, we are now faced with another potentially more serious issue; bird flu.
In recent months, avian influenza H1N1 (also commonly referred to as Bird Flu) has been detected in wild seabird populations in the U.K. Avian Flu is an infectious disease which spreads from bird to bird through contact with infected saliva and droppings. There have been a number of cases in recent years but this year it is impacting on seabirds. Initially it appeared in Great Skuas in the northern Isles late last summer but this spring it has spread to other species, especially Northern Gannets. It is now evident, that once it is in a colony it spreads rapidly and has devastating effects with serious declines in Great Skuas being reported. What is now becoming even more concerning is that the disease is being found in other seabird species including Auks, Terns and Eiders so the threat is real.
Britain’s seabird populations are of global significance, for example the U.K. holds 56% of the world’s Northern Gannet population so we are all very concerned for the next few months ahead. Potentially it could reach the Isle of May as we now have confirmed cases in the Firth of Forth, we will keep you posted on the latest. As you could image, everyone concerned with conservation, wildlife and seabirds are deeply concerned.
For those who find dead birds, it is important to follow the strict guidelines as although it is low risk to public health, people should not touch dead or sick birds or allow their dogs to pick them up (please keep them on a lead). Please continue to report dead birds (particularly new species and locations) to the Defra hotline: 03459 33 55 77.