Nature / Impact of last year’s bird flu outbreak still being felt at nature reserves

A bonxie, or great skua, at the Hermaness NNR in Unst. Photo: Lorne Gill/SNH

THE IMPACT of the 2022 avian flu outbreak is still being felt in the bonxie and gannet populations at Shetland’s two nature reserves, despite only one new case this year.

A census carried out this year showed bonxies were down by 85 per cent at Noss and 78 per cent in Hermaness in Unst, compared to 2018.

Gannet numbers are down by 37 per cent at Hermaness since a count in 2021, and 10 per cent at Noss since 2019.

However, only one gannet was recorded with bird flu in 2023.

Operations officer for the reserves’ operator NatureScot Juan Brown said: “Thankfully we did not see a repeat of the avian flu outbreaks of recent years in 2023, but our census demonstrates the toll the virus has taken on bonxie and gannet populations in Shetland.

“Scotland’s avian flu task force, led by NatureScot, is continuing its work to assess and better understand the impact of avian flu and ensure we have positive measures in place to support the recovery of species impacted by the outbreak.”


During the 2023 seabird census, 121 shag nests were counted at Noss NNR, the highest island count since 1984.

An unusual looking guillemot with yellow legs, feet and bill was also spotted on the island. The abnormal colouring suggests a partial loss of eumelanin which is responsible for black/brown pigmentation.

NatureScot said although it is not unusual to come across colour aberrations in birds, this is the first time a guillemot such as this has been spotted on Noss, which has over 20,000 individuals nesting on the island.

This year also saw the first record for a Pallas’s grasshopper warbler at Noss NNR as easterly winds in blew in migrant birds in September.

Other notable visitors to Noss were the island’s second record of a hoopoe in spring and the third record of a common crane, as well as a second record for Blyth’s reed warbler, 38 years after the first was sighted on the island in 1985.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


Willow ermine was a new moth species recorded for Noss when two were spotted on the island during an influx to Shetland.

Meanwhile the Hermaness National Nature Reserve (NNR) welcomed a record number of visitors in 2023 following an extensive upgrade of facilities last year.

Around 12,000 people visited Britain’s most northerly NNR where the new boardwalk, information hub and visitor shelter have been proving popular.

At Noss NNR, the ferry service returned to normal following Covid and avian flu restrictions over the past three years, with almost 1,600 people ferried across Noss Sound.

“In more positive news, we were delighted to welcome a record number of visitors to Hermaness this year,” Brown said.


“It was great to see so many people out and about enjoying the new boardwalk and facilities.

“The visitor centre at Noss has also been given an end-of-season refresh, with new information panels on the island’s seabirds and marine life, and we look forward to unveiling the new display in 2024.”

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.