Our planet is home to countless tiny uninhabited islands. Some of these remote places remain untouched for environmental reasons. But others are left alone because of something much more sinister.

One of these is Gruinard Island, a small land mass located about 0.6 miles off the northwest coast of Scotland, and its story is chilling…

From afar, Gruinard Island looks quiet and serene. But its peaceful green hills tell a different story, one from a dark period in mankind’s history.


When WWII hit, and British forces were worried about a chemical attack. So they decided to start testing a deadly chemical of their own. It was called anthrax. The British Government settled on Gruinard Island as the place to test it, and in 1942 they requisitioned the sleepy little island from its owners.


To carry out the test, researchers brought 80 sheep to the island and then set off spores filled with the highly infectious anthrax strain Vollum 14578. The sheep began to die of infection within days.

sheep in the long grass

Scientists concluded that a large release of anthrax in a German city would wipe out the population and make it uninhabitable for decades after.


After the war ended in 1945, the original owner requested that Gruinard Island be returned, but the government admitted that the terrain was so contaminated that it couldn’t be released until it was cleaned up and declared safe “for habitation by man and beast.”


But a massive decontamination was deemed too expensive and dangerous, so the island was quarantined and closed to the public for the next several decades.


By 1981, a team of microbiologists had had enough. Under cover of night, they embarked on Operation Dark Harvest: stealing 300 pounds of soil samples from the island and threatening to leave them at strategic government facilities until the island was restored.


On April 24, 1990, four years after the decontamination efforts and 48 years after the initial quarantine, Gruinard Island was finally declared safe and free of anthrax. A week later, heirs of the initial owner purchased it back for the original sale price of £500.


Not everyone is convinced that the biological danger on the island is over. Archaeologist Dr. Brian Moffat warns that anthrax is a highly resilient bacterium, stating: “I would not go walking on Guinard.” Can you believe this beautiful island had such an unsettling history?

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