Gruinard Island

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Gruinard Island (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Ghruinneard) is a small, oval-shaped Scottish island approximately 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) long by 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) wide, located in Gruinard Bay, about halfway between Gairloch and Ullapool.[5] At its closest point to the mainland it is just more than 1.1 kilometres (0.68 mi) offshore. The island was made dangerous for all mammals by experiments with the anthrax bacterium, until it was decontaminated in the late 20th century.

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Biological warfare testing

In 1942, during the Second World War, Gruinard was the site of a biological warfare test by British military scientists from Porton Down.[6] At that time there was an investigation by the British government into the feasibility of an attack using anthrax, to test the vulnerability of Britain against a German attack and the feasibility of attacking Germany.[7] Given the nature of the weapon which was being developed, it was recognised that tests would cause widespread and long-lasting contamination of the immediate area by anthrax spores. In order to limit contamination a remote and uninhabited island was required. After a survey, Gruinard was deemed suitable and was compulsorily purchased from its owners by the British Government.[8]

The anthrax strain chosen for the Gruinard bioweapons trials was a highly virulent type called "Vollum 14578", named after R.L. Vollum, Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Oxford, who supplied it.[9] Eighty sheep were taken to the island and bombs filled with anthrax spores were exploded close to where selected groups were tethered. The sheep became infected with anthrax and began to die within days of exposure.[6] Some of the experiments were recorded on 16 mm colour movie film, which has recently[when?] been declassified. One sequence shows the detonation of an anthrax bomb fixed at the end of a tall pole supported with guy ropes. When the bomb is detonated a brownish aerosol cloud drifts away towards the target animals. A later sequence shows anthrax-infected sheep carcasses being burned in incinerators, following the conclusion of the experiment.[1]

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