Iceland: Puffin snorkeling!
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Visitors will be banned from 23 Scottish islands in Orkney, Shetland, the Firth of Forth, Argyll, the Western Isles and Highlands. The islands affected are uninhabited but are often visited by daytrippers.
NatureScot, the Scottish Government agency, said that public visits must be suspended after a large number of bird deaths.
The number of gannets is estimated to have decreased by 25 percent in Shetland while the number of great skua in Orkney has fallen by 85 percent.
Banning tourists should offer the seabirds the best possible chance of survival and recovery.
Tourists can spread the virus through their footwear which can put the birds at even greater risk.
Cases of avian flu have been recorded across a wide area of Scotland with positive cases recorded in Shetland, Orkney, Outer and Inner Hebrides, Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Fife, East Lothian and Scottish Borders.
NatureScot’s deputy director of nature and climate change, Eileen Stuart, said it hadn’t been an “easy decision”.
She said: “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.
“In Scotland, with the new task force announced last week, we and our partners are committed to sharing our expertise and coordinating action on the ground.”
Along with great skuas and gannets, herring gulls, kittiwakes, Arctic terns and puffins have tested positive for the disease.
There are fears the flu could spread to endangered birds, including species of which there are less than 100 left in the UK.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said the latest outbreak of avian flu was the largest ever seen in the UK.
RSPB has warned that the flu is “unprecedented” and could have a catastrophic impact on bird populations.
Tourists can still take boat trips to the afflicted islands but will not be allowed to disembark until further notice.
Humans have a very low risk of contracting the virus, according to public health professionals.
Orkney.com advises: “Due to the current outbreak of avian flu in Scotland, members of the public should avoid touching sick or dead wild birds.
“Visitors to coastal areas should also keep their dogs on a lead to avoid them touching or picking up dead birds.”
Gannets are large white seabirds with black wingtips and can also be seen in Yorkshire and Pembrokeshire.
Great skua can only be found in the UK on the Scottish islands but have also made their home in northwest Ireland.
The seabirds catch fish at the sea surface to take prey from other birds to survive.
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