Bird flu outbreak has 'increased dramatically,' warns Scotland's chief vet with case in Borders

There was a confirmed case of bird flu at St Abbs. Credit: PA

The ongoing bird flu outbreak has "increased dramatically" over the last several days, Scotland's chief vet has warned, with a case confirmed in the Scottish Borders.

The case in St Abbs comes after one authority reported that upwards of 300 dead birds have been found washed up on shores in the local authority's beaches recently.

Sheila Voas, the chief veterinary officer for Scotland, said the number of cases of avian influenza had not only increased in the last week, and that cases have been found "not just in Aberdeenshire but across the whole country".

She told BBC Radio Scotland: "The whole of the east coast of Great Britain is expecting problems, particularly with gulls, guillemots and terns."

Ms Voas also said that "almost all" 32,000 chickens infected with the illness at an Aberdeenshire farm have been culled.

She added that despite the high numbers, the risk factor remains low.

Producers working with poultry should take appropriate security measures to minimise the chances of an outbreak, she said, and members of the public, including dog walkers, should stay away from dead birds.

Ms Voas said there are measures that can be put in place if an outbreak becomes significant enough, such as prevention zones and the necessary housing of birds.

Asked if she is considering this, she said she is "keeping the situation under review".

She added: "At the moment, it's not warranted but that's something that could change on a daily or weekly basis.

"To be honest, it's unusual at this time of year. It's generally a disease of winter when it's brought back to the country by water foul migrating."

Elsewhere in the country, Fife council confirmed they have not had any reported cases of the flu as of yet, but have measures in place if necessary.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the National Trust for Scotland collectively voiced their concern that an birds are dying of the virus at an increased rate.

They revealed there have been reports of dead birds being washed up from Wick in Caithness to St Abbs in Berwickshire.

The virus has also been found at NatureScot's Forvie National Nature Reserve (NNR) in black-headed gulls and sandwich terns.

Signs of bird flu has also been spotted in both common and arctic terns at the reserve and kittiwakes on the Isle of May NNR have tested positive, with the death toll on the rise.

Alastair MacGugan, a NatureScot wildlife manager, said testing is key to unravelling what is happening with the country's seabirds.

He said: "Unfortunately, after a quieter period, we are beginning to see an increase in the number of dead birds being reported through our surveillance network, particularly on the east coast.

"While we are thankfully not seeing the large numbers of dead birds around breeding sites that we did last year, this development is really concerning and we're working hard with all partners in Scotland's Avian Flu Task Force to understand what is happening and take action to make our wild bird populations more resilient."

Dr Liz Humphreys, BTO Scotland principal seabird ecologist, said: "It's clear that our seabirds are still being badly affected by HPAI, despite the fact the scale of mortality initially seemed less catastrophic than last year."

She urged members of the public to submit all sightings of dead birds to BirdTrack and the dead wild birds service.

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