Hundreds of dead birds wash up on Cornwall's beaches amid 'catastrophic' avian flu outbreak

Bodies of birds are deposited along Cornwall's coastline in unprecedented numbers, as ITV News Wales and West of England correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports

The impact of avian flu is “catastrophic” for wild birds, and in Cornwall the numbers dying and washing-up along the coast are now at unprecedented levels. 

Cornwall Wildlife Trust have never seen anything like it.

This year alone they’ve had almost 500 reports of dead birds in August and September. Compared to a total of 79 for the whole of 2020, and the scale of destruction is stark. The true number of deaths will run into tens of thousands.  

Abby Crosby is Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

A dead bird washed up on a Cornish beach. Credit: ITV News

"This is a really serious situation impacting incredibly special group of animals that are already battered by a plethora of threats," she said.

"Here they are now facing a global pandemic. Our immediate message is encouraging people to stay well away from sick and injured and dead birds, which is heart-breaking but essential.”

Nowhere has been untouched by bird flu, from the north of Scotland to the south western tip of England, hundreds of thousands of birds have died.

Protecting wild birds is nigh on impossible but those in captivity stand a better chance. At Paradise Park wildlife sanctuary, netting applied over the penguin enclosure should help minimise the threat. The flamingos are no longer on display and have instead been temporarily re-homed in a garden polytunnel.

 David Woolcock is the curator at Paradise Park. “What worries us is the loss of any all of the birds here at the park," he said.

"Many of the species we're working with are critically endangered, some are actually extinct in the wild. So we've got a huge responsibility to do our very best to make sure these birds don't succumb to birth through.”

Thousands of birds are at risk as the epidemic sweeps the UK and beyond. Credit: ITV News

The threat is very close. On the Hayle estuary just half a mile from Paradise Park we found another carcass amongst the thousands of wild birds. Sadly, where they congregate so the virus spreads. On the shore or out to sea, bird flu is leaving a grim mark, and as birds migrate so too does the deadly disease.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are taking swift action to limit the spread of avian influenza. However we are seeing a growing number of bird flu cases both on commercial farms and in backyard flocks, particularly in coastal locations across Devon, Cornwall and parts of Somerset.

“It is already a legal requirement in the south-west of England to implement higher biosecurity standards but all keepers, regardless of whether they keep just a few birds or thousands, should be taking action now to protect their flocks from this highly infectious disease. This includes regularly cleaning and disinfecting your footwear and clothes before entering enclosures and stopping your birds mixing with any wild birds.”