We are delighted to announce that we have yet again won an award, this time in the Travel & Hospitality Awards 2024……more coming soon with a press release. THANK YOU!!

 

 

 

 

“Not what we were expecting when we woke up yesterday morning……A BELUGA !!! a high Arctic marine mammal in the sub-zero winter wonderland Shetland is currently experiencing, to get to the site was hard enough, but worth every freezing moment for a once in a lifetime wildlife sighting”

A stunning ivory white BELUGA whale was spotted off West Ayre in Hillswick yesterday morning by Margaret and Jeff Tungatt who contacted the admin of the local Cetacean WhatsApp page with the sighting, then made public mid-morning. Phil, Ayda (8) & I tried to head out north but the weather with pure arctic conditions, thick snow & drift made our plans impossible & we turned back. However around 1pm, the weather improved & we again set of north in our 4×4. We made a diversion to pick up good friend & ace cameraman & drone photographer Richard Shucksmith & made it to West Ayre, Hillswick about an hour before dark. The sea was very dark & skies ominous as we scanned the bay, & almost immediately picked up the incredible sight of a ghostly ivory white large BELUGA, regularly surfacing & clearly visible at distance contrasting against the dark water. The large, active animal appeared healthy, feeding & regularly diving for a few minutes at a time, we could even follow it’s white shape below the surface. Beluga apparently feed on various fish species as well as crabs, octopus, squid & snails & this one could be seen up-ending to feed on a couple of occasions.

Richard captured breath-taking drone footage of this rare Arctic & Sub-Arctic marine mammal (seriously doesn’t get better than that please check it out!! LINK here: https://fb.watch/pEVp-PJU8G/ & it was hugely exciting for all four of us to not only watch the animal surfacing & see it’s iconic ‘melon-head’ shape & beautiful tail shape at distance, but also enjoy it ‘live’ via Richard’s drone camera. I got some distant record shots & a nice little video which serves as a perfect memory of Shetland’s 6th BELUGA. It was a very special moment for all of us at Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, & one we will remember for years to come. Rebecca has previously seen Beluga in Spitsbergen whilst guiding there is 2012 but it was a world cetacean tick for everyone else. It is still present today 18th January 2024 & we hope if the weather improves many others will get to enjoy seeing they spectacular, iconic Arctic species as the weather improves. It is difficult to know exactly why the Beluga is here in Shetland waters, along with the 5 other Beluga records, we have also had Bearded Seals & Walrus on the Isles of the the last few years. These are all high arctic species & we must consider that these rare but increasing sightings are highly likely the result of climate change & the aptly named climate catastrophe we are faced with today. The strong northerly storms & arctic weather front we have been experiencing of late, may also have caused the Hillswick Beluga to have become disorientated & separated from it’s pod, & of course although it looks healthy, we never really know if there are more serious individual, internal health issues at play. We hope it will feed well whilst here & be able to make it’s way back further north as soon as possible.

ON THE BELOW LINK FOR OUR VIDEO OF THE BELUGA SURFACING OFF HILLSWICK.

https://www.instagram.com/reel/C2N-dtCxOoY/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igsh=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

 

Loch Ness Monster or …… A BELUGA!
BELUGA BAY – West Ayre Bay, Hillswick.

 

Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat – November article.

This month we celebrate the 200th issue of I’I shetland!! 🎉

“In recognition of this milestone, we have selected stories subjectively from each year since its launch in 2006! We hope you enjoy our selection, remembering those occasions along with us, as well as celebrating your community in print. We thank all our advertisers, reads and contributors that make i’i Shetland special and Shetland’s monthly magazine.” 💛

“Other features this month include The Accordion & Fiddle Festival, Shetland Jewellery ‘Shining Bright’, Bruce Williamson, Shetland Swing performance, Elizabeth Atia’s latest recipe, Shetland Wildlife with Rebecca Nason, i’i Kids for the peerie ones, your photography in Readers Pics and much more! Pick up your copy today!” i’i Shetland, Nov’23

 

 

Why not give you’re loved ones a very special Christmas present this year, with a boat tour with seasoned professionals to enjoy one of Europe’s finest wildlife spectacles – the sight, smell & sound of over 25,000 northern gannets & a wealth of other seabirds & marine life around the towering Noss cliffs & around Bressay. Whether you are already on Shetland or planning a holiday here – make sure you add this exciting, popular, top Shetland visitor attraction to your visit today ……… Merry Christmas!

 

 

Call – email or text us today to order a NOSS BOAT gift vouchers for Christmas!

 

Celebrating Shetland’s Community

“Our popular monthly magazine, i’i shetland, tells the stories of the people and happenings in the lively Shetland community. From local events to personal triumphs and the births of Shetland’s newest residents, we tell the stories of the people that make Shetland the wonderful place it is.

Our magazine is written, designed and published by Millgaet Media, centred around the stunning photography produced by our team of exceptional photographers”

The Noss Boat co-owner, wildlife photographer & naturalist Rebecca Nason, writes a monthly article in Shetland’s popular local magazine i’i Shetland. October’s article was titled “OWLING OCTOBER” and contained beautiful images of Long-eared Owls together with an interesting insight into their lives and their migration through the Shetland Islands. All images taken on Shetland mainland and Fair Isle. November’s article ‘YELLOW FELLOW’ is out now!

Shetland’s Late Summer Seabirds & Cetaceans

We have been good friends as well as work colleagues of Brydon Thomason for many years & been collaborating with his highly successful local wildlife tour company SHETLAND NATURE since we started our own business in 2016. We are delighted that The Noss Boat tours features in all his seasonal group itineraries, & for the first time this summer, we are part of his new Summer Seabirds & Cetaceans itinerary. Check out his website & some of the tour details below:

Holiday overview:

Seven nights’ all-inclusive accommodation

  • Small group size of just six to eight guests
  • Led by resident naturalist guides who live/work here all year round
  • Unique insight into behaviour and ecology of Shetlands Otters
  • Exclusive cetacean search boat charter with Shetland Seabird Tours
  • Exclusive boat charter to Gannets of Noss NNR with Shetland Seabird Tours
  • Peak season for inshore cetaceans such as Minke Whale, White-beaked & Risso’s Dolphin

NEW FOR 2023!

Saturday 5th – 12th August, 2023

We are delighted to launch this unique new tour itinerary, which focuses primarily on three of Shetland’s star wildlife attractions – seabirds, Otters and cetaceans. Focusing on these throughout the latter weeks of the summer is something we do every year on our day tours and bespoke holiday bookings, but this season, it feels particularly appropriate to add it to our holiday program.

Celebrating the amazing vibe and momentum throughout the UK nature community building around the incredible ‘Wild Isles’ series, this itinerary features three of the series headline acts – Gannets, Otters and hopefully – Orca!

For many of Shetland’s species the brief northern breeding season is already ending by August, yet for most, especially sea birds, the season is in full swing. Though Common Guillemot chicks have left their ledges and Kittiwakes are fledging, Gannetries are a raucous hustle and bustle of activity with chicks still a few weeks from fledging and on the clifftops and grassy slopes, Atlantic Puffins are still present in decent numbers, as are the mighty Great Skuas, which are still yet to fledge their chicks and Arctic Skua give chase to Arctic Terns in their dramatic aerial pursuits. This is also peak time for cetaceans, being the time of year we tend to see the widest range of species inshore, particularly those that are following the Mackerel, Herring and Saithe that amass in our waters in this season.

Itinerary

Day One – Arrival dinner and meet/greet

Our week adventure begins on Saturday evening when we meet and greet you at the Sumburgh Hotel. Over dinner as guests and guide become acquainted, we enthuse about the exciting adventure ahead and this is the perfect time to learn about the islands, the wildlife and indeed life in general in Shetland. This is something we feel plays a very important role in your Shetland experience and with all our core season team of guides being resident Shetlanders we take pride in this. Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel

Day Two – Sumburgh Head & Mousa

We begin our voyage of discovery in the South Mainland, at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Sumburgh Head reserve, where we hope for our first Puffins of the week. Sumburgh is the ideal setting in which to start to get to know some of Shetland’s breeding birds, with many of our common species close at hand.

This is also the first of several cetacean watch-points that we will visit, where we keep a keen eye off shore for species such as Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale, Risso’s and White-beaked Dolphin which are all regularly recorded here in late summer, with a decent chance of Orca too. This is also been the peak time to see Basking Shark here too, which will also be on our radar at all watchpoints.

In the afternoon we take the small passenger ferry across to the marvellous uninhabited island of Mousa. The short ten-minute crossing offers one of the best places in Britain to see Harbour Porpoise. Our walk around the RSPB reserve will take us along cliffs that are favoured nesting places for Fulmar and Shag; also Black Guillemot and Gannet may be seen fishing offshore where we have a good chance of cetaceans too. On the walk we will observe lagoons that are a favourite haul out for both Common and Grey Seal. We also pass a small loch, a favourite bathing pool for Arctic Terns and has been known to accommodate a nesting pair of Red-throated Divers. The final highlight of our visit to the island will be to explore Mousa Broch. This almost complete broch (stone tower) stands 13m tall and is the best-preserved example of an Iron Age (c.300BC to 200AD) broch in existence. Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel

Day three – South Mainland & Noss

Today we venture north. Leaving Shetland’s south Mainland we journey north to the north western part of the Shetland Mainland. Before leaving the south, we enjoy a gentle coastal walk while exploring the nearby peninsula of Scatness, Fitful Head and the picturesque tombolo of St Ninian’s Isle beach, each of which offering the opportunity of sea mammals off shore

In the afternoon we join the amazing, multi-award winning Shetland Seabird Tours for the first of the week’s two marine wildlife boat charters onboard the Ayda Ruby II, with naturalist skipper, Phil Haris who takes us out from Lerwick to the spectacular Noss NNR, home to over 18,000 breeding pairs of Northern Gannets. The colonies and towering cliffs are truly awe-inspiring, followed by an exhilarating feeding frenzy offshore. We will also enjoy many other seabirds here, both on the water and in the colonies above.

Once ashore in the late afternoon we make our way north to The St Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick, where we will spend the next four nights.

Day four – North Mainland

Today we begin to explore the magnificent and rugged north-western part of Shetland Mainland. From a geological and landscape perspective, this remote corner of the islands is unique and there is much to admire. At Eshaness lighthouse, the breathtaking views of one of Shetland’s most iconic vistas are guaranteed, and an examination of a nearby blowhole is not for the faint-hearted. If the weather is good, we will spend time scanning for whales and dolphins out at sea. Risso’s, White-sided and White-beaked Dolphins, Minke Whales and of course Orca (Killer Whale) can all be seen from here with a bit of luck, a keen eye – and better still – a calm sea! Harbour Porpoises are the most common cetacean and perhaps more predictable, and we should be able to find these at our regular sites.

In the afternoon we venture up onto higher ground, up to the tele communications mast on Collafirth Hill, which shoulders Ronas Hill.  At 450 metres above sea level, Ronas Hill is hardly a mountain yet it is the highest point in Shetland. Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

Day Five – All About Otters

Unique to Shetland Nature, we will spend the day devoted to one of Shetland’s star wildlife attractions, the Otter! In the absence of Badger or Fox, the Otter takes centre stage. With a higher density than anywhere else in the world, it is little wonder that Shetland has long been recognised as the best place to see and study this wonderful mammal.

It was in fact around this very species that Shetland Nature was evolved, through co-author of Otters in Shetland- the tale of the draatsi’ , Brydon Thomason’s lifelong passion and experience of them. It is little wonder that Otter watching is therefore our signature specialty, and we pride ourselves on the insight and encounters. We have yet to have a group leave disappointed and we have every confidence in our continued success.

Here is one of the many areas that our guests experience first-hand the benefits of our small group size and the leadership of local naturalists. Our approach is based on our unsurpassed knowledge of Shetland’s Otters; where and when to stand the best chance of encounters and most of all how to search and observe without disturbance. We will visit some of the best sites in the islands to give you a unique insight into the secret lives of one of the nation’s most evocative and captivating animals.

Our sensitivity towards Shetland’s Otters is as renowned as our success with guests’ encounters. We operate under a government legislation Schedule 2 license issued by Scottish Natural Heritage. Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

Day Six – Unit

 

 

Today, for the penultimate full day of the itinerary we journey to the very top of Britain, the island of Unst. Island hopping from Mainland to Yell and again across to Unst, the ferries offer the perfect opportunity to scan the sea for cetaceans.

On Unst we begin our North Isles experience by savouring the rich flora and fauna of Unst and head out onto Hermaness National Nature Reserve. Setting out on foot through the heart of the reserve, we can guarantee ‘up close and personal’ encounters with Great Skuas, known locally as Bonxies, which nest in large numbers on the moorland interior. Reaching the spectacular cliffs on the west side of the reserve, we hope to be first greeted by Puffins before breath-taking views of Muckle Flugga and the most northerly lighthouse in Britain. These and the surrounding stacks and cliffs boast well over 22,000 breeding pairs of Gannets, the largest colony in Shetland.

During the afternoon, we will take our time exploring the lesser known corners of the island and some of our favourite cetacean watchpoints and otter sites and leaving the island, again have a chance of a fin from the ferries. Overnight St Magnus Hotel

Day Seven – Cetacean Search boat charter

Today, on our final full day of the trip we join Shetland Seabird Tours once again for an extended and exclusive marine wildlife adventure. Leaving Lerwick in the morning, we set out specifically in search of cetaceans, with species such as Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale, Risso’s and White-beaked Dolphin all regularly recorded, and our main target species – not to mention Orca, with a bit of luck.

Being actively involved in the local sightings group, and quite likely, Phil’s up-to-date sightings on their previous days trips on board the Ayda Ruby II we will head out in search of whales and dolphins for the morning.

After lunch and back on dry land, we take time to explore and enjoy central Mainland, visit some of the more secluded side-roads of the East and West, enjoying a leisurely safari-style adventure in search of Mountain Hare, Red Grouse, Otters as well as a cetacean watchpoint or two!

Over dinner in the evening we reminisce about the week we have had, the places we have been and the species we have seen before bidding you a fond farewell, as your holiday comes to an end after Breakfast the following morning. Overnight Sumburgh Hotel.

Booking – Holiday Dates

Principal Tour Guides

Fitness Level Required – Moderate
Walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain
Price: ÂŁ1,895
2023 Dates
Saturday 5th August to Saturday 12th August, 2023

Contact Us to Book

Private Tour Options: This holiday can also be arranged exclusively for private booing for couples, families or small groups.

Contact us for information and cost proposal for your own exclusive/tailor-made holiday. Email: info@shetlandnature.net

Additional holiday information:

  • Read about the hotels we use – view our hotel providers.
  • All meals, accommodation, guiding fee’s and excursions as well as ferry fares and transport are included in package cost.
  • All boat trips are subject to weather availability.
  • Not included in cost are items of a personal nature or hotel bar tabs nor is travel to and from Shetland included.
  • No single supplement charged.
  • On booking please advise of any special requirements medical or dietary.
  • Throughout the holiday some of the activities will potentially involve walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain. A reasonable level of fitness is advised however this is run at a leisurely pace. We can also provide holidays at an even more leisurely pace; please contact us for details.
  • Please note that all itineraries are subject to change but guests will be advised in advance should it be necessary to make any major changes.

Passengers and staff were treated to the most spectacular marine mammal encounter imaginable on Saturday mornings Noss Boat tour when en-route to Noss, Shetland Seabird Tours bespoke wildlife boat found themselves surrounded on all sides by a fabulous group of over 70 White-beaked Dolphins, playing in the surf, riding the bow of the boat, and on occasion, leaping and breaching right out of the water in Noss Sound.

“It was an unforgettable experience, having never seen such a large, playful, showy group of Dolphin, you just didn’t know where to look or where to point the camera next!” SST Passenger

Free Willy moment aboard The Noss Boat on Saturday. @ Rebecca Nason/SST

After making sure delighted passengers, including the owners 7 year old daughter Ayda were getting super views & photo opportunities, Rebecca, who is a professional bird photographer & new OM SYSTEM Ambassador, took a series of shots of one mid-distance, boisterous animal which was surfacing regularly as if on a pogo stick!

Full belly view of a fabulous White-beaked Dolphin. In the 1970s White-beaked Dolphin was considered to be the most commonly encountered dolphin in Shetland waters. It was much scarcer in the mid 2000s, with just 13 reports between 2015 and 2018 and has now been replaced by Risso’s Dolphin as the most commonly encountered dolphin in Shetland waters. However 2022 has seen a surge in observations in Shetland waters again. @ Rebecca Nason/SST

She says ” I had taken numerous shots of dolphins as they surfaced in small groups all over the place, but find it a lot harder photographing cetaceans than birds and was struggling to connect with such brief surface encounters, which are all to often gone just after they are seen with no time to raise the camera, fully engage & press the shutter! I noticed a few animals leaping right out of the water a little further away and decided to concentrate on these as they were visible for a few seconds longer out of the water whilst fully breaching. I could hardly believe my eyes when I looked at the back of the camera & realised that I had caught this stunningly beautiful marine mammal in full breach & that it was sharp! These images were only possible due to the awesome mirrorless OM SYSTEM gear I converted to during lockdown, the autofocus is just super fast, so I didn’t miss the moment!

Full breach! Doing the twist with a quick side view profile showing the fabulous blunt white nose. @ Rebecca Nason/SST

Cetaceans are being observed from Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat with increasing regularity, and this year has been exceptional with numerous sightings including the biggest ever counts we’ve had of Minke Whale, Basking Shark & Rissos Dolphin, also magical Orca encounters & daily Harbour Porpoise observations. All this on top of the dramatic wildlife spectacles surrounding the seabird city of Noss, with it’s awe-inspiring cliffs heaving with birdlife, and over 25,000 northern gannets in full breeding mode, surely one of Europe’s finest wildlife encounters by boat.

Owners, Rebecca & Phil are still buzzing from their weekend boat experience, with tours soon winding down for another season. “It has been our best year to date in both numbers of passengers & wildlife encounters, & we are fired up to see what the 2023 season brings. We have several varied contracts now into late autumn including working with the National Oceanography Centre survey team’s  Boaty McBoatface project off Bressay. And  as finalists in this year’s coveted Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards, in the Best Visitor Attraction Experience” category, we are looking forward to joining the other Shetland category finalists for the awards ceremony in November in Inverness before we get back to finishing some new business developments in 2023″. Rebecca & Phil

All images taken using OM SYSTEM:



 

 

Reaching for the stars. White-beaked Dolphin at Noss Sound on Saturday. @ Rebecca Nason/SST
Surfacing White-beaked Dolphin: Other names include White-nosed Dolphin & Squidhound!
Water streaming off the backs of two White-beaked Dolphins. @ Rebecca Nason/SST
White-beaked Dolphin, water cascading from its dorsal fin – Noss Sound. @ Rebecca Nason/SST

 

 

We continue to be genuinely concerned for the welfare of our seabirds here on Shetland and in many other parts of Britain, Europe, the world, in the face of the fast spreading, avian flu and the horrifically significant bird mortality rates associated with it. This is one of the most disastrous, real threats to our seabirds we have ever experienced and are ever likely to see in our lifetime.  There is no easy solution to actually help the seabirds who have it, leaving many feeling utterly helpless, with no obvious answer to stopping the current trend and spread. We can only hope that the spread of the disease will plateau and the rates of infection will decrease over the breeding season, but these are factors we have no real control over. The only real solution is to hit the original source of this epidemic, a man-made disease as a result of several unacceptable factors/practices within the poultry industry. Without significant change at source, these diseases will continue to develop and leak into our already fragile, sensitive wild bird populations and spread like wildfire. This should be a significant wake up call …..

We have noticed a slight dip in adult mortality both on the cliffs of Noss and in the waters around Noss over the last few weeks. We hope that this will continue. The same cannot be said for other internationally important seabird populations, both on Hermaness, the Isle of May, Bass Rock among them. We wonder if the style of nesting which is structurally vertical and more spaced out on Noss compared to flatter, horizontal and more compact nesting colonies in some other locations may play a factor in this.

We are often being asked if our business is being affected. No it isn’t, the boat is as busy as ever, more so perhaps with the recent closure of Noss NNR by land. We continue to offer one of the most spectacular seabird wildlife spectacles in Europe and showcase what incredible marine life we have here on the islands safely by boat. Luckily so far, the mortality levels in the massive 25,000 northern gannet population at Noss still remains relatively low. We are certainly seeing less bonxies (Great Skua) than usual, though they do not breed on the cliffs so we are not witnessing the large scale destruction of this globally important seabird during our boat tours. The Great Skua population has been hit really very hard, and is very obvious on sites such as Hermaness and Fair Isle. Seabirds bring sheer joy to us and our thousands of passengers each year, we must call for urgent action and put our wild bird populations at the top of the organisations/authorities agendas.

Please note that both NOSS NNR BY LAND ONLY & THE ISLE OF MAY Reserves have now been closed to the public.

See Isle of May post here:

NatureScot’s Isle of May and Noss National Nature Reserves (NNRs) will be closed to public landings from 1 July to help protect vulnerable seabird populations from avian influenza.

Scotland’s nature agency will also be advising visitors not to take direct access onto seabird colonies on other National Nature Reserves such as Hermaness.

The measure is the latest in response to growing concern over the spread and impact of the current H5N1 strain of avian flu, particularly in seabird colonies.

The virus is widespread across Scotland, with positive cases recorded in Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda, Lewis and St Abbs. Large numbers of dead and sick seabirds have also been reported from Aberdeenshire, East Lothian and the west coast of Sutherland.

Great skua and gannets have been hardest hit. Sample surveys of colonies show a 64% decline of great skua on St Kilda and 85% at Rousay in Orkney. Great black-backed gull, Arctic tern, common guillemot and puffin have also tested positive.

The decision to restrict access to NatureScot’s two island NNRs, which in summer are home to hundreds of thousands of breeding seabirds, has been taken to limit the spread of the virus through bird populations and give colonies the best possible chance of survival and recovery by reducing any additional stress. While avian flu has been confirmed in gannets at Noss, there have been no confirmed cases on the Isle of May yet.

At other coastal NNRs such as Hermaness in Shetland, NatureScot will ask visitors not to walk through seabird colonies but to enjoy the spectacle from a distance. Local signage will be in place at those reserves affected.

Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s Deputy Director of Nature & Climate Change, said: “The decision to close these reserves has not been taken lightly, but we are increasingly concerned about the devastating impact avian flu is having in Scotland, particularly on our seabird colonies.

“Our island reserves in particular are a haven for internationally important bird populations. The situation has been rapidly evolving and deteriorating, and we feel at this time that restricting access to these sites, and reducing it at others, is a precautionary but proportionate approach that gives us the best chance of reducing the spread of the virus and its impact.

“We recognise that this will be disappointing for those planning a visit but we hope people understand that this is about protecting our precious seabird populations for the future. Visitors will still be able to enjoy the summer seabird spectacle at both island reserves by taking round-island trips without coming ashore, and at other reserves by viewing from a short distance without crossing through colony areas. We will be keeping the situation under regular review over the coming weeks.”

NatureScot, in discussion with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), has already suspended ringing and research activities in seabird colonies for the remainder of the breeding season, with the exception of essential surveillance of avian flu.

Surveillance monitoring is being coordinated at key sites and NatureScot is working at speed with the Scottish Government and conservation organisations to develop an effective overall strategy. Central to NatureScot’s role is gaining a better understanding of the changing situation, to inform action to help populations recover.

The current situation follows a large outbreak in Svalbard barnacle geese last winter where H5N1 is estimated to have killed 30-40% of the wintering population.

Avian flu has been found across species with positive reports from pink-footed geese, buzzards, mute swans, a red kite and a sea eagle for example. It is unfortunately amongst breeding seabird colonies where currently the most significant and worrying mass mortality events are occurring. Read this article ion their website here:

 

A couple of weeks ago we were chartered to take RSPB & NatureScot out to Noss so that they could film, interview and take in first hand the effects of avian flu on the vast seabird colonies of NOSS NNR. The video contains images of dead birds. Please see one of the videos made here below:

We will continue to monitor and offer any assistance needed from the sea, and keep in contact with both the RSPB here on Shetland and NatureScot on any new developments.

RSPB SHETLAND AVIAN FLU VIDEO – WITH SHETLAND SEABIRD TOURS – THE NOSS BOAT

How damaging is bird flu to our wild birds?

Since 2006 there have been several outbreaks of avian influenza in the UK, the vast majority of which have been on domestic poultry farms. There had been very few cases of the virus being detected in wild birds in the UK.  But this has recently changed with an unprecedented series of outbreaks – the largest ever in the UK.
In January 2022 there was a severe outbreak on the Solway Firth, Scotland, where more than 4,000 barnacle geese died. These birds, which migrate from Svalbard in arctic Norway, were seen falling from the sky in distress and lines of dead birds were washed up on beaches.
In June 2022 there have been reports of widespread deaths of great skuas on Shetland, Fair Isle, Orkney, the Western Isles, Handa, the Flannan Isles and St Kilda. Gannets have been hit at some of their key colonies, including Noss in Shetland, Troup Head in Northeast Scotland and Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth.
There are also reports of sandwich and Arctic terns dying as well as numbers of guillemots at a colony on the Mull of Galloway.

What does this mean for our seabirds?

Britain’s seabird populations are of global significance. For example, the UK is home to 56% of the world’s gannet population and Scotland has 60% of the world’s great skuas.  These and other seabirds are already under massive pressure from climate change, lack of prey fish, deaths through entanglement in fishing gear and developments along our coasts. The impact of avian flu could hit them particularly hard as seabirds tend to live for a long time and take longer to reach breeding age. They also usually have fewer chicks. This means deaths from bird flu could further decrease declining numbers and that any recovery from the disease would take far longer.

What should UK governments be doing? 

The bird flu which is causing these birds to die is a highly mutable and deadly new form which originated in poultry farming.   

The RSPB are calling on UK governments to develop a response plan urgently. We want to see coordinated surveillance and testing, disturbance minimisation, carcass disposal and biosecurity to stop the spread.

In the longer term, we want much higher importance being given to prioritising and funding seabird conservation. This would help make our seabird populations more resilient to these diseases and the other challenges they face. 

Check out this worrying development, with Mark Avery reporting on avian flu working its way through the Roseate Terns at Coquet Island….posted today 1st July 2022.

Concern is mounting for seabirds on RSPB Coquet Island in Northumberland, the UK’s only roseate tern breeding colony, and across the UK, following confirmed cases of Avian Influenza.

https://markavery.info/2022/07/01/rspb-press-release-roseate-terns-and-avian-poultry-flu/

 

Another article today from a different perspective…interesting figures and suggestions for reducing the mortality costs within the poultry industry.

https://www.feednavigator.com/Article/2022/07/01/Largest-seasonal-HPAI-epidemic-ever-in-Europe-Is-lower-poultry-density-a-way-to-tackle-avian-flu

 

Our friends in the Netherlands are faring no better…..see here the obliteration of a Sandwich Tern colony this spring, just one example of the devastating impact this epidemic is having over there…….

 

https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2022/06/largest-sandwich-tern-colony-on-texel-wiped-out-by-bird-flu/

 

This post is correct to the best of our knowledge, please do get in touch with us if you would like to point us to further details or highlight any areas missed ……

 

Rebecca Nason 1st July 2022