The 2021/22 outbreak of HPAI is still affecting wild bird populations in the UK. This has been the worst ever outbreak of HPAI in the UK and has not only affected a large number of birds but is ongoing over a long time period. You can see previous blogs for more information and the story of the unprecedented impact this strain of HPAI has had, causing the loss of a third of the Solway barnacle geese population. We have been in unchartered territory with the disease this year and its effects on wild birds. This is continuing with the focus now being on seabirds in Scotland.
Late last summer, sick and dead great skuas were found in Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda and the Flannan Isles and they tested positive for HPAI. This happened just prior to migration – the species winters off North and West Africa – so the scale of impact on the population was unclear. Now the skuas are back and RSPB Scotland is collating data from colonies to assess impacts, but we were not expected to find great skuas again sick and dying from HPAI. We are also seeing eider ducks and other seabirds including gannets succumbing to HPAI.
Britain's seabird populations are of global significance with the UK holding 56% of the worlds northern gannet population and Scotland holding 46% of the world’s northern gannets and 60% of the world’s great skuas. Both these species are amber listed in Birds of Conservation Concern 5. Our seabirds are already under massive pressure from human impacts including climate change, lack of prey fish, deaths through entanglement in fishing gear and development pressure. There is great concern for the potential impacts of HPAI on our already beleaguered wild birds.
The RSPB believes that to deal with future HPAI outbreaks in wild birds, improved surveillance, testing and carcass collecting is essential and that an effective plan should be put in place for biosecurity measures and disturbance minimisation to alleviate the pressures on these birds. But this is only the surface of the problem, we must take actions towards effective conservation of our wild bird species.
Full information regarding the current situation in each of the four countries, including advice for poultry keepers, can be found here:
Northern Ireland: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/avian-influenza-ai
Birds can be infected with the avian influenza virus through contact with infected individual birds or waste products. Wild birds including waterfowl can carry and transmit the virus without showing evidence of disease. Movements of poultry around and between countries, and the migrations of wild birds, are both known vectors of the virus.
Although the risk of contracting the disease from a wild bird is very low, we recommend that people do not handle sick or dead wild birds, remain vigilant, and report dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), seabirds or birds of prey to the DEFRA helpline (03459 33 55 77). See DEFRA’s website here for more details https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu
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