Gruinard Island looks like Scotland from a picture book: space, tranquillity, green meadows and a few beaches. The island is located about one kilometer off Scotland in the Atlantic Ocean, and at less than two square kilometers it looks calm and idyllic in pictures. But appearances are deceptive: Gruinard Island has a dark, deadly and literally poisonous history.
You can tell that something is wrong by the fact that the island is completely deserted. Until 1990 it was even officially considered uninhabitable - and even today many Scots prefer to stay away from it. The background are experiments with anthrax pathogens, which the British government carried out there during the Second World War. They contaminated the soil for decades.
In 1942, British military scientists prepared for the possible use of biological weapons. Gruinard Island was chosen as the setting: A few people still lived there in the 19th century, but the island had been uninhabited since the 1920s. A suitable place, unnoticed by the public and supposedly reasonably safe, to test the effects of pathogens that trigger the infectious disease anthrax - also known as anthrax. Without further ado, the island was confiscated by the original owners for this purpose.
Then "Operation Vegetarian" took its course: 60 sheep were brought to the island, and a bomb containing the anthrax pathogen detonated near them. After three days, the animals died in agony. But not only the immediate infections and their effects caused massive damage and showed how extremely dangerous this weapon was, the pathogens had also contaminated the soil. With Antrax, entire cities can be made "uninhabitable for decades," according to the scientists' report.
Ultimately, this powerful weapon was not used in the fight against Nazi Germany - although there are said to have been relatively concrete plans to first infect and kill the cattle and then, by eating them, millions of Germans. On Gruinard Island, however, the after-effects of the experiments were still felt for a long time. The island was declared a restricted area and was quarantined for a total of 48 years. Nobody was allowed to enter them, only visits to measure the contamination were allowed under strict security precautions.
It wasn't until 1990 that Gruinard Island got a second chance. After four years of decontamination efforts, sheep were sent back to the island. They grazed in peace – and stayed healthy. In a ceremony, the island was declared habitable again and returned to the heirs of the former owners for the price of £500 agreed upon after the Second World War. Today, Gruinard Island attracts some tourists due to its gloomy past, but there are always doubts whether all anthrax residues have really disappeared - the pathogen can survive for an extremely long time.
Sources: BBC / "New Statesman"