Many of you will have seen recent reports of dead and dying wild birds in the Solway area and the confirmation of Bird Flu here. Sadly, the UK Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency who is monitoring this disease has confirmed positive cases in dead birds found at our RSPB Scotland Mersehead nature reserve.

The majority of the dead wild birds in the Solway area, including at Mersehead, are barnacle geese. These birds breed during the brief summer in Arctic Svalbard, then migrate thousands of miles to spend the winter here on the Solway coast, acting as a much-loved marker in the change of the seasons for many people. The Solway barnacle geese are a major conservation success story, having increased from a low of just a few hundred birds in the 1940s to over 30,000 now following RSPB advocacy and the introduction of legal protection.

As a result of the confirmation of Bird Flu in the dead birds found at Mersehead there are biosecurity measures in place on the reserve and signage with further information for visitors to try to help prevent further spread of the disease. If you are visiting over the next wee while please pay attention to these and follow any instructions outlined on them.

The high numbers of dead and dying wild birds in the Solway area, and the presence of the High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) virus – Bird Flu – is generating growing concern among conservationists and nature lovers. The current cross-UK outbreak of HPAI has been evident for several weeks, and is easily the largest and most widespread outbreak in recent years. The wild bird species involved are mostly, but not exclusively, wild geese, ducks and swans. The source of the outbreak is not known.

Bird Flu is known to circulate at varying levels in wild bird populations, and also in poultry and poultry products. Movements of poultry around and between countries, and the migrations of wild birds, are both known vectors of the virus. Dead wild birds have tested positive for HPAI in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and an unusually high number of infected poultry premises has also been recorded across the UK countries.

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), gulls or birds of prey to the UK government Defra helpline (03459 33 44 77). Everyone, at all times but especially now, should take care to maintain good hygiene when feeding garden birds – regularly cleaning feeders outside with mild disinfectant, removing old bird-food, and spacing-out feeders as much as possible.

More details on Bird Flu in the UK can be found here.