An investigation into the discovery of sick and dying seabirds off the south-west coast is underway amid fears a deadly strain of bird flu may have spread from Britain to Ireland.
Sick and dying seabirds have been spotted in remote areas of Cork and Kerry in recent days.
Experts from the Ministry of Agriculture are now examining the carcasses.
Laboratory tests are being conducted to determine if bird flu was involved and, if so, what strain of the virus it might be.
A number of the dead and dying birds were gannets – exactly the type of birds affected by the current outbreak in the UK.
Experts have warned the public not to approach or touch sick or dead seabirds.
Fishermen, holidaymakers and farmers have been urged to report all dead wild birds, particularly seabirds, amid fears a virulent strain of bird flu that is killing thousands of seabirds off the UK coast could spread to Ireland.
Experts have warned the extent of bird flu in Scotland and northern England, combined with the migratory behavior of many birds, means a spread to Ireland is a serious problem.
However, there are no plans to order poultry farmers to put their flocks back indoors to protect them from contact with wild birds.
In the UK, wildlife and agricultural health experts are closely monitoring a major outbreak of avian influenza that is devastating seabird colonies off England and southern Scotland.
The outbreak is so severe that there are fears some large breeding colonies of seabirds could be wiped out entirely – and pleasure craft have been banned from landing on the affected islands.
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) official Dr. Paul Walton said this was an issue of great importance.
“Seabirds are already facing multiple severe human-induced stresses – climate change, prey fish shortages, invasive species being introduced to islands, mortality in fishing gear and poorly placed wind turbines,” he said.
“Now a highly variable form of bird flu, originating in poultry, is killing our wild seabirds in large numbers. We urge UK governments to develop a response plan as a matter of urgency – to coordinate surveillance and testing, minimizing disruption, disposal of carcasses and biosecurity.”
In recent weeks, disturbing images have emerged of Bass Rock in Scotland, the Farne Islands of north-east England and the Norfolk coast, showing hundreds of dead birds washing ashore and onto beaches.
In other cases, sick and dying birds have been filmed on rocks, beaches and headlands.
Ireland recorded multiple cases of bird flu last year in one of the largest outbreaks of all time in Europe.
Dead birds found on the Irish coast will now be carefully tested to see if the virus has spread to Irish wild bird populations.
On November 22 last year, the Department of Agriculture ordered all poultry flocks to be kept indoors to prevent any contact with infected wild birds.
The department lifted that restriction on April 29.
“The decision to withdraw this requirement is based on a number of parameters that indicate a decreasing risk of an outbreak of avian influenza – including the fact that there has been no confirmed case of avian influenza in wild birds for four weeks, reduced numbers of migratory waterbirds and increasing environmental pollution
temperatures and daylight hours,” a department official explained at the time.
However, both the department and Teagasc have urged poultry farmers and members of the public to be vigilant regarding dead or dying wild birds they may find.
Last year, the HPAI H5N1 strain was found in Ireland in swans, a white-tailed eagle, a barn owl, a herring gull and even a peregrine falcon.
In the UK, the greatest death toll from the avian flu outbreak has been in gannets, as some of Europe’s largest breeding grounds for the wild bird are now virtually empty and deserted.
There are also concerns about its impact on vulnerable populations of puffins and giant gulls.
Local fishermen reported large numbers of dead birds floating in the sea off northern England and southern Scotland.
Across the UK, 25 local authorities have reported cases of wild bird flu – a staggering increase from just three councils in May.
There are an estimated eight million breeding seabirds representing more than 25 species across Britain and Ireland, including puffins and the great skuas.
While there are many strains of avian influenza, strain HPAI H5N1 is particularly virulent to poultry, wild and seabirds.
HPAI infects multiple organs and causes severe internal bleeding and death in nearly 80 percent of cases.
However, it does not generally pose a major health risk to humans, although one person became ill after contact with an infected bird last year.
The virus is deadliest in crowded seabird breeding colonies.
Both the Department of Agriculture and Teagasc urged people who discover dead wild birds not to touch them but to contact their local regional veterinary office immediately.
They also urged poultry owners to ensure measures are in place to prevent contact between poultry flocks and wild birds, never feed or water poultry flocks outdoors, and adhere to strict biosecurity measures.
“It is critical that all bird keepers remain vigilant to this threat and implement strict biosecurity measures.”
https://www.independent.ie/news/investigation-underway-into-sick-and-dying-seabirds-off-the-south-west-coast-amid-avian-flu-fears-41971800.html Survey of sick and dying seabirds off south-west coast underway amid bird flu fears