Bird flu, like any other flu, comes in different strains, most of which cause few or no symptoms in infected birds. But since October 2021 a very virulent strain of H5N1 has swept around the world causing serious disease and many, many fatalities among both farmed and wild bird populations.
While most of the fatalities in the UK’s wild bird populations have been among seabirds, raptors and carrion feeders, all our birds are at risk. So far, almost seventy different UK bird species have tested positive for bird flu, including many of the species that live in or pass through our reserve: crows, thrushes, starlings, sparrows, pigeons, doves, hawks and owls.
There are things we can do to help. It is important that scientists learn as much as possible about the way in which bird flu spreads so please report any dead or dying birds you find. Don’t touch them, don’t let your dog touch them and leash your dog if you think it might disturb any other birds in the area.
If you are forced to handle a dead bird, wash your hands afterwards, clean up any feathers and dispose of them carefully. If you have reason to believe that the the bird died of bird flu, the carcass has to be disposed of as a Category 1 Animal By-product and you will need to contact DEFRA (helpline: 03459 33 55 77) or your local council.
Remember to clean your footwear thoroughly after walking anywhere that infected birds might have been. The disease is already widespread among our waterbirds, particularly among mute swans, so if you have walked by the Rivers Biss or Avon or the Kennet & Avon Canal, please clean you boots before you visit the reserve again.
Beyond the reserve, garden bird feeders need to be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week, and drinking and bathing water changed even more frequently than that, and the containers scrubbed. If you are one of the people who feed the birds in the reserve, please stop for the duration of this emergency. Anything that brings our birds together in a single space is a danger to them. It’s almost summertime and they will do quite well for themselves without additional feeding.
Then, when you have scrubbed down your bird feeding station and disinfected your boots, go and lobby somebody. Ask your MP, your county or town councillors what is being done not only to mitigate the spread of bird flu but to protect our wildlife in the next outbreak. The pressures are now overwhelming: the climate and environmental emergencies are sweeping us and the creatures we share our planet with further and further from safety. Our governments, national and local, need to help us prepare.
Header image: Sparrowhawk pair © Simon Knight (taken in the reserve)
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