Carcasses removed as bird flu cases rise in the South West

  • Watch Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust's video

Wildlife experts have had to search beaches in the South West in full PPE to remove bird carcasses after a suspected bird flu outbreak.

People are now being urged to stay away from dead and unwell birds for fears Avian Flu is spreading in the region. 

There have been confirmed cases in Bristol, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall, with more suspected cases in the Isles of Scilly where dead gannets have washed ashore. 

The Scilly Wildlife Trust is now urging people, particularly dog-walkers, to stay away from dead or dying birds to prevent contamination.

The Trust's CEO, Julian Branscombe, said it got its report of a dead gannet from a local fisherman just a few weeks ago. 

He said: “We couldn’t imagine that a few weeks later our team would be dressed in full protective gear, removing the carcasses of more than 40 dead seabirds washed up on our shores. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

"There are lots more reports out at sea, where the bodies are beyond our reach.

"It’s upsetting for people to see, worrying from a conservation perspective, and our team have all been deeply affected by what we’re having to do.

"Our main concerns with bird flu are how it can spread to other species of birds but also mammals, like dogs, seals, and even humans.

"Once collected, the bodies will go to Defra for testing to confirm if bird flu is present."

The trust is "frustrated" by the response from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - but it has been assured the bodies they are collecting will be tested.

Birds are washing up on shores across the south west Credit: Scilly Wildlife Trust

The Cornwall Wildlife Trust is also asking the public and volunteers to stay away from sick or dead birds to minimise the risk of spread.

It said: "Stay away from sick or dead seabirds and under no circumstances touch or handle the animals due to high risk and severity of Avian bird flu. 

"It is the landowner’s responsibility to remove and dispose of the dead seabirds safely.”

Whilst the health risk to the general public remains low, Public Health Cornwall is also urging people not to feed wild birds or touch any dead or sick birds to reduce the risk of bird flu spreading. 

It said: "We encourage the public to stay well away from carcasses (minimum two metres) as they may contain diseases transmittable to humans, including bird flu in the seabirds we are seeing stranded on our beaches today.”

Devon Wildlife Trust added: “If you find any dead or sick waterfowl ducks, swans, geese, gulls, seabirds, birds of prey, or more than five of any other species together, please report them.”

It added a message on Twitter which contained guidance on cleaning bird feeders and preventing the spread of disease in gardens.

A captive bird control zone has been declared near Newlyn, in St Ives, meaning all bird keepers within the controlled zone must keep their birds indoors and keep a close watch for any signs of disease. 

If a dead bird is spotted, authorities are asking people to call immediately.

On the Isles of Scilly, cases can be reported to the Scilly's Wildlife Trust, by calling 01720 422153.

A spokesperson for Defra said: "We are aware of reports of dead wild birds on the Isles of Scilly and we will be collecting samples for testing in due course.

"Animal and Plant Health Agency publish a report (updated weekly) on findings of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds in Great Britain available here.

"Bird keepers can help prevent avian influenza spread by being vigilant, monitoring their birds frequently and practicing good biosecurity measures on their premises."