We were thrilled to recently receive a very special award from Tripadvisor, an award only given to 1% of businesses across the tourism sector! We were left literally speechless  – what an accolade! We take such pride in our Noss Boat wildlife tour experiences and customer service as well as our original, inspired and expanding business branding. We have been leading the way as the eco-focused, No.1 Noss Boat since our beginnings as a local, family run business back in 2016 and have been amazed at how the business has grown and managed to ride the covid wave to come out stronger than ever. Being owned and run by partners of nearly 20 years, Phil Harris & Rebecca Nason who are both lifelong birders and conservationists has really helped keep us focused and given the business a strong platform. We have thoroughly enjoyed sharing the spectacular marine wildlife around Noss with thousands of passengers each year, and thank everybody for such incredible feedback and support. THANK YOU!

 

“Congratulations to the 2022 Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best Winners,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “The Travelers’ Choice Awards recognize the best in tourism and hospitality, according to those who matter most: your guests. Ranking among the Best of the Best is always tough — but never more so than this year as we emerge from the pandemic. Whether it’s using new technology, implementing safety measures, or hiring outstanding staff, I’m impressed by the steps you’ve taken to meet travelers’ new demands. You’ve adapted brilliantly in the face of adversity.”

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform*, helps hundreds of millions of people each month** become better travelers, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before. With more than 988 million reviews and opinions of nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at delicious restaurants and discover great places nearby. As a travel guidance company available in 43 markets and 22 languages, Tripadvisor makes planning easy no matter the trip type.

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

 

 

 

 

Many of you will have become aware of the devastating impact that Avian Flu is having on wild birds, in particular seabirds now, as well as the poultry industry, this spring. Here on Shetland, the disease is spreading most notably among the Northern Gannet & Great Skua populations on the Islands. We have witnessed at first hand the devastating consequences of this disease working through the Noss NNR gannet colony, as this site is a daily fixture on our Noss Boat wildlife tours. Home to over 25,000 northern gannets & thousands of other seabirds during the summer months, Noss cliffs by boat, is hailed as one of Europe’s finest wildlife spectacles, & one we have had pleasure in sharing with thousands of passengers over the years and continue to do so. There are many threats facing our seabirds, many of the current issues are shared as part of our daily live commentary as well as touching on the state & future of the health of the wider marine environment. But to see this new disease at work,  killing hundreds of what has been one of our most resilient, successful seabirds, the northern gannet, is  very upsetting for all to witness & with no obvious help or solution at hand, we watch with a strong sense of helplessness.  All we can do for now is to monitor & hope that this disease will depart as quickly as it arrived, only time will tell. We have liaised & collected samples for NatureScot to initially confirm the disease among Noss gannets, we will continue to offer support where we can.

Hermaness NNR on Unst, also home to a similar number of northern gannets is equally affected, as are apparently, smaller gannet colonies on Foula & Fair Isle. Scotland holds over 40% of the world’s total population of northern gannets, around 180,000 pairs over 14 colonies. Not all colonies have confirmed cases of avian flu at the current time. Icelandic populations have recently confirmed avian flu within their breeding populations, meaning the majority of the endemic northern gannet populations in Europe are now at serious risk of significant losses after years of slow but steady growth.

 

An adult northern gannet on a honeycomb-weathered sandstone nest site, one of over 25,000 northern gannets. Can these usually successful, resilient, seabirds weather this fast moving, devastating disease?

RSPB LATEST STATEMENT:

“The 2021/22 outbreak of HPAI is still affecting wild bird populations in the UK. This has been the worst ever outbreak of HPAI in the UK and has not only affected a large number of birds but is ongoing over a long time period. You can see previous blogs for more information and the story of the unprecedented impact this strain of HPAI has had, causing the loss of a third of the Solway barnacle geese population. We have been in unchartered territory with the disease this year and its effects on wild birds. This is continuing with the focus now being on seabirds in Scotland.

Late last summer, sick and dead great skuas were found in Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda and the Flannan Isles and they tested positive for HPAI. This happened just prior to migration – the species winters off North and West Africa – so the scale of impact on the population was unclear. Now the skuas are back and RSPB Scotland is collating data from colonies to assess impacts, but we were not expected to find great skuas again sick and dying from HPAI. We are also seeing eider ducks and other seabirds including gannets succumbing to HPAI.

Britain’s seabird populations are of global significance with the UK holding 56% of the worlds northern gannet population and Scotland holding 46% of the world’s northern gannets and 60% of the world’s great skuas. Both these species are amber listed in Birds of Conservation Concern 5. Our seabirds are already under massive pressure from human impacts including climate change, lack of prey fish, deaths through entanglement in fishing gear and development pressure. There is great concern for the potential impacts of HPAI on our already beleaguered wild birds.

The RSPB believes that to deal with future HPAI outbreaks in wild birds, improved surveillance, testing and carcass collecting is essential and that an effective plan should be put in place for biosecurity measures and disturbance minimisation to alleviate the pressures on these birds. But this is only the surface of the problem, we must take actions towards effective conservation of our wild bird species“.  – Nick Hawkes June 1st 2022

Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/publications/avian-influenza-bird-flu/

 

A Bonxie (Great Skua) feeding on a dead Northern Gannet at the base of Noss – ©R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, June 2022

 

“Birds can be infected with the avian influenza virus through contact with infected individual birds or waste products. Wild birds including waterfowl can carry and transmit the virus without showing evidence of disease. Movements of poultry around and between countries, and the migrations of wild birds, are both known vectors of the virus.

Although the risk of contracting the disease from a wild bird is very low, we recommend that people do not handle sick or dead wild birds, remain vigilant, and report dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), seabirds or birds of prey to the DEFRA helpline (03459 33 55 77). See DEFRA’s website here for more details” – Nick Hawkes June 2022

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu

 

Bonxie’s (Great Skua) on Shetland mainland & Islands such as Fair Isle & Unst have been hit hard this spring, with hundreds of birds succumbing to Avian Flu over a matter of weeks. Watching healthy Bonxie’s feeding on diseased dead birds is harrowing  – © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat June 2022.

Great Skuas or “bonxies” as they are known in Shetland, one of our most iconic seabirds, were first confirmed with avian flu last year & this year has seen a frightening development in the numbers of affected birds & mortality levels across Shetland this year. Shetland & Orkney hold over 60% of the world population of Great Skua, and 90% of the UK breeding population. They have a very restricted breeding range confined to the northeast Atlantic and migrated to spend the winter in north-west Africa. We have seen many dead bonxies in the water around Noss as well as alive birds clearly showing signs of the disease. We have been bonxies feeding on the infected corpses of northern gannets and of course chasing other seabirds for food, all have a high risk of cross-infection between species. There have been devastating scenes of dead & dying bonxies on Noss & Hermaness in recent weeks. Again at this stage, all we can do is to monitor & wait for any new government guidelines or initiatives but it is expected that Bonxies will have a disastrous breeding season this year with high mortality rates & low productivity. What we can do, as the RSPB & NatureScot have stated, is to call for urgent adoption of policies & conservation action to help maximise the resilience of our seabird populations, which are under enormous threats from climate change, bycatch mortality, the impact of non-native predators & disease outbreaks such as avian flu. 

The pitted sandstone cliffs of Noss are currently alive with thousands of healthy Northern Gannets preparing for the breeding season. However close inspection reveals the dark reality of a highly contagious, often fatal disease, with numerous adult gannets slumped dead on their nest sites alongside seemingly healthy birds. © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat

 

A slumped, dead adult Northern Gannet hanging off its nest site at Noss NNR gannet colony this week – June 2022. An upsetting sight at what should be the start of a productive breeding season for this seabird.

 

The devastating sight of a recently deceased adult Northern Gannet dead on the nest, after succumbing to Avian Flu. © R.Nason/Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat June 2022.