Island of the Week: Gruinard Island

Gruinard Island
Gruinard Island
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Between Gairloch and Ullapool, around a kilometre off the coast lies Gruinard Island.

LOCATION: North West Highlands


GAELIC NAME: Eilean Gruinneart

HISTORY: Previously recorded as being lush with greenery, Gruinard has changed vastly since the 1800s.

Uninhabited since 1920, it was chosen for the grim task of anthrax testing in 1941.

Scientists put 60 sheep on Gruinard Island and exposed them to anthrax. Not surprisingly the sheep all died but the island was left heavilly contaminated for decades.

While the sheep were incinerated, the area was quarrantined as a number of signs went up warning people not to land on the island.

Gruinard was a desolate no-go zone until the 1980s, when a militant protest group began sending packets of soil, which they claimed was taken from the island, to various government establishments with demands that the area be decontaminated.

After a package was left in Blackpool, which was hosting the Conservative party conference, the government ordered the island be cleaned up and decontamination began in 1986.

The entire island was sprayed with a solution of formaldehyde and sea-water, and a number of animals were released as test subjects onto the island to see if they survived. Four years later the island was declared anthrax free.

While rabbits and sheep seem to be surviving these days, few people feel confident enough to visit the island.