Avian bird flu: Scotland seabird populations devastated by influenza outbreak

NatureScot said targeted surveys of breeding seabird populations are underway, with research showing avian flu has significantly impacted on seabird populations

Avian flu has devastated seabird populations, with some species returning to Scotland in much lower numbers than before last year's influenza outbreak, nature experts have said.​

Early surveillance of seabird colonies by NatureScot and its partners found great skuas had been some of the hardest hit, with initial observations finding numbers have slumped.

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It is estimated that up to 90 per cent of the population on Hermaness, Shetland, may have been lost, NatureScot said, forcing the body to impose a ban on ringing and research activities to avoid unnecessary disturbance or stress to the birds.

Avian flu has devastated seabird populationsAvian flu has devastated seabird populations
Avian flu has devastated seabird populations

Scotland supports 60 per cent of the world breeding population of great skua, which migrate to the northern-most isles of the UK from their wintering grounds off the coast of Spain and Africa.

And it is not just great skuas, there are also concerns about unusual behaviour in terns, with fewer than usual returning to sites across Scotland, including NatureScot's Isle of May and Noss National Nature Reserves, and their return coming later than expected.

Alastair MacGugan, a NatureScot wildlife manager, said: "It is too soon to draw firm conclusions about the impact of last year's terrible losses, but the low numbers of great skua and terns returning to our shores is certainly concerning and something we are keeping a very close watch on."

On Noss tern nesting was late but some eggs have now been laid. But on the Isle of May there has so far been no nesting this year, while on Rum the terns have deserted without laying any eggs.

NatureScot said targeted surveys of breeding seabird populations are currently under way and will help to better understand the extent of the impact.

But there is some optimism. Mr MacGugan said: "The good news is that, in Scotland at least, we are not seeing the large numbers of dead birds around breeding sites that we did last year. This may mean that the remaining birds have gained some level of immunity to the virus.

"If so, then there is cause for optimism as populations may begin to slowly replace the losses that occurred last year.

"This is far from the end of the outbreak.”



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