Does the release of game birds into the UK countryside risk spreading avian flu?

The test will be what happens in the coming months, with the hope on all sides that the flu does not penetrate inland, as ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports

Does the release of millions of game birds for shooting risk spreading avian flu?

For the RSPB the answer is an emphatic yes, but it may not be so clear cut. Across the country tens of millions of pheasants and partridges have been released into the wild, growing and feeding together in preparation for the shooting season.

But should they be? Given that avian flu is still prevalent is this the time to be introducing so many birds into the environment? The RSPB think not and want the releasing of game birds to stop. "If they were to transfer bird flu into terrestrial bird populations, into woodland birds, into farmland birds - it would take something that is already a crisis for our sea birds and turn it into a full-blown catastrophe for our wild bird populations across the country," Jeff Knot, from the RSPB, told ITV News.

The RSPB have warned of the consequences of releasing game birds

There is no doubt that avian flu has and continues to cause devastation amongst wild bird populations.

The scenes from the Farne Islands recently were a stark reminder that this strain of the bird flu is tearing through wild bird colonies. But does it follow that the same will happen with game birds?

They can transmit the disease but the game bird industry argues the evidence isn’t there to force them to stop what they are doing.

Dominic Boulton spoke of the 'risk to the countryside' if shooting does not take place

Dominic Boulton, from the Game Farmers Association, said: "Once you look at the scientific evidence, look at the history of what has happened in the past, the fact that there are no known cases of released game birds spreading infection in the countryside. "The risk is so small that it is hugely outweighed by the much greater risk to the countryside of shooting not happening."

The government believe the threat of game birds spreading the flu are low but they’re taking no chances and say they are currently updating their risk assessment. The test will be what happens in the coming months and the hope on all sides is that the avian flu does not penetrate inland with the kind of devastation it has wreaked on seabirds.

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