THE number of dead gannets washing ashore in East Lothian has decreased, despite the recent announcement that bird flu had arrived in the county.

East Lothian Council officials confirmed the number of reported sightings of dead seabirds on county beaches was lower than previous counts.

The Bass Rock, near North Berwick, hosts the largest northern gannet population in the world, about 150,000.

Avian influenza can have a mortality rate as high as 40 per cent in bird populations, with the tightly packed colony already showing severely depleted numbers compared to last year.

Susan Davies, CEO at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, said: “Research on the island, linked to the offshore wind developments, has now switched to fixed point photography in a small part of the colony to help get a better handle on the scale of the changes within their study site.

“We are grateful to science institutes, business and individuals for the offers of help with a full drone survey. We are putting in place arrangements for this and will in time be able to better quantify the scale of the impact we are seeing.

'Sad to witness'

“Whilst there are still thousands of northern gannets circling the island, the situation is still a desperately sad one to witness within the world’s largest northern gannet colony.”

A council spokesperson said: “We continue to closely monitor the situation in relation to avian flu and dead birds, with regular meetings of a multi-agency group led by East Lothian Council.

“Countryside rangers are carrying out regular coastline patrols with a particular focus on the area between Yellowcraig and the East Beach, North Berwick. Observations suggest fewer dead birds were washed ashore over the weekend and in recent days, but we recognise this situation could change.

“Anyone who finds a live but ailing gannet should call SSPCA on 03000 999 999. Anyone who finds three dead wild waterfowl, three dead birds of prey, or five or more dead wild birds of any other species is advised to report this to DEFRA on 03459 33 55 77.”