Why are more dead seabirds washing up on the shores of North East England?

Wildlife groups have voiced concern as reports of dead sea birds spread along the coastline.

Experts estimate that thousands of dead birds - including gannets and great skuas - have washed up on Scottish shores after suspected Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPIA) swept through colonies.

Wildlife groups south of the border have now joined calls for urgent action to be taken as carcasses begin to appear in Northumberland.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is investigating the cause as part of its wild bird surveillance programme. Government monitoring has only found 18 cases of bird flu along the North East and North Yorkshire coastline this year as of 10 June.

A dead guillemot found in Boulmer Credit: Jane Hardy

But the RSPB believe HPIA to be the likely cause of the deaths and urge members of the public to not touch dead birds due to the low risk of human transmission. They should instead report cases to DEFRA's rural services hotline so they can be sent to laboratories for analysis.

"We are dealing with a mutable and pathogenic strain of bird flu that has now sadly got into our sea birds after devastating some of our wild fowl populations over the winter," said RSPB spokesperson James Reynolds.

"They are already facing multiple pressures that are human generated… so this is another anthropogenic threat and we could see a population level impact.

"If it does get deeply into these populations… we could see really tragic reductions in their numbers. This is a wake-up call. We need eco-system restoration."

HPIA is thought to have originated in intensive poultry operations in East Asia before spreading to wild fowl and sea bird populations.

DEFRA has said they are aware of a number of wild bird deaths reported from several locations in England and that these deaths are currently under investigation as part of the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) on-going wild bird surveillance programme.

Dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, should be reported to the Defra helpline (03459 335577).