BIRD flu has been detected amongst an internationally important population of geese on a Scottish island.

Islay, an island off the west coast, hosts approximately 60% of the world’s barnacle geese every winter.

Around 50,000 of the birds migrate to Scotland from Greenland in the autumn, before heading back north in the spring.

However, NatureScot has confirmed that avian flu was detected among numerous dead birds on the island, with “impacts increasing” during the early part of December.

The natural heritage body told The National that it is monitoring the situation closely alongside the RSPB and local farmers.

A spokesperson for NatureScot said: “Monitoring is in place and we are keeping the situation under constant review.

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“While reports of mortality in the Islay barnacle geese are concerning, we do know that avian flu circulates widely in geese and ducks and so far we have not seen the levels of mortality on Islay that were experienced last winter in barnacle geese on the Solway.”

Last winter, between 3000 and 4000 barnacle geese died of the virus – a number the RSPB said was “unprecedented”.

The latest figures from NatureScot show that more than 900 sick and dead wild birds were reported across Scotland between mid-October and December 11.

However, the agency stressed that several of the reports are likely to be unrelated to bird flu and down to other factors.

But it did express concern about the number of herring gulls (250) and Greenland barnacle geese (190) which were found deceased in the same period – with both species previously testing positive for the pathogenic avian flu in Scotland.

While the health risk to humans is low, NatureScot advised against touching the carcasses of dead or sick birds and encouraged people to report them to Defra.

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More than 13,000 barnacle geese were culled on Islay between 2010 and 2018 in an attempt to minimise the species impact on agriculture. The birds feed on grasses which farmers want left for livestock.

In February, the RSPB called for an immediate moratorium on the shooting of geese on the island, which sees flocks killed with semi-automatic weapons annually.

One reason for the cull is it encourages birds to roost elsewhere, including across the sea in Ireland.

The RSPB claimed that stopping the cull would minimise the chance of birds mixing with populations already infected with avian flu in Ireland.

NatureScot then put in place a temporary ban on the culling of barnacle geese on the island.