Isle of May to open to the public

31 March 2023

The Isle of May National Nature Reserve will open its doors to the public this weekend.

Boat operators will be sailing to the National Nature Reserve, managed by NatureScot, from Saturday (1st April).

NatureScot staff are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to the island, which closed last year for five weeks to help protect seabirds from a devastating outbreak of avian flu.

Over the past year, the Scottish Avian Influenza Task Force led by NatureScot has been working to further understand how the virus is transmitted within seabird colonies and what practical actions can be put in place to help seabirds try to cope in the event an outbreak happens again. There is still much for scientists to understand about avian influenza and its spread so further targeted research and surveillance will continue throughout the season.

To allow access to islands, a series of biosecurity measures and ways to minimise disturbance to birds have been implemented, including disinfecting footwear and restricting access to certain areas when necessary. This will be kept under review as the season progresses. 

Visitors to the Isle of May will be asked to use disinfectant foot baths on departing mainland harbours and arriving on the island, and to stay on designated paths as they enjoy their visit.

Throughout spring, the island is home to more than 80,000 pairs of birds nesting, including more than 40,000 puffins. The high west cliffs are home to guillemots, razorbills, shags and kittiwakes, while more than 1,200 female eider ducks nest across the reserve.

NatureScot reserve manager David Steel said: “We’re really looking forward to welcoming people back to enjoy the Isle of May, which is a really magical place in spring as thousands of seabirds return to this important wildlife reserve.

“It was heart-breaking to see the impact that avian flu had on colonies around our coasts last year and while a difficult decision, closing the island was the right thing to do to protect our seabirds.

“While we don’t yet know what impact the virus has had on the birds that nest here, we hope that this will be a better year for them. We ask that visitors help us to help them by following the biosecurity measures that will be in place, and would like to thank boat operators for their support in implementing this.”

The Isle of May can be accessed from both the Fife and Lothian coasts and will remain open until the end of September. Access to the island is free, but there are boat charges to get there.

The following companies provide boat trips to the Isle of May: 

Find out more about the Isle of May on the NatureScot website.