(Gruinard Island)

Gruinard Island
©2023 Gazetteer for Scotland

Gruinard Island

The uninhabited Gruinard Island sits in Gruinard Bay just a half-mile (1 km) off the coast of Wester Ross in Highland Council area. It covers an area of 196 ha (484 acres) and rises to 104m (341 feet) at An Eilid in the very centre of the island. It was chosen as the test site for germ warfare tests carried out during the Second World War. A series of bombs which contained anthrax were exploded on the island in 1942 and white powder seen to drift across in the wind. Sheep which the scientists had tethered at various locations on the island soon died and the soil was permanently infected. Locals on the mainland began to complain of livestock dying, but this was covered up at the time.

In 1981 a mysterious group, the Dark Harvest Commandos, launched a campaign to focus attention on the deadly contamination. They left soil which they claimed was from the Gruinard at the Ministry of Defence's secret laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire and at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool. This brought official action and five years later a team of scientists, vaccinated against anthrax and dressed in protective clothing, came to the island to treat the soil and kill the bacteria. After a period of 45 years, warning signs were removed and the island was deemed safe to visit. In 1990, in the island was brought back from the Government by the heirs of the original owner for the original sale price of £500, these terms having been part of the original requisition order.

However, the BBC Scotland programme The Mystery of Anthrax Island (2022) revealed that possible contamination may remain on the mainland at Rubha Mor, downwind of Gruinard.

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