A rising number of wild and migratory birds are tragically perishing or washing ashore along the coastlines of the UK. At North Cave Wetlands in Yorkshire, a significant colony of black-headed gulls has seen a decline of 10% in their 2,000 breeding pairs. Along the east coast of Scotland, over 1,000 deceased sea birds have been recovered from the Aberdeenshire coast, while other wild birds have been found from Wick in Caithness to St Abbs in Berwickshire. The Northumberland coast, including the Farne Islands and Coquet Island, has witnessed the loss of over 7,500 seabirds. Additionally, between 8th and 17th August 2023, seven cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 were reported in commercial poultry farms on the Scottish coast.
Poultry farmers must remain on high alert as the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain continues to devastate not only wild bird colonies across the nation, but also commercial poultry farms and backyard bird keepers. It is imperative for farmers to implement stringent biosecurity measures to safeguard their healthy birds from the substantial risk of disease posed by infected wild birds coming onto their premises.
Livetec has been involved in the majority of notifiable disease outbreaks of avian influenza in the past decade, understanding all too well the consequences of an outbreak on-farm. Farmers must elevate their biosecurity measures to the highest level, as the threat from infected wild birds represents a significant disease risk for poultry farmers throughout the UK.
An ‘unprecedented’ outbreak has unfolded in the wild birds and seabirds across the UK in 2023, with 61 bird species testing positive for avian flu. The RSPB has classified it as an unparalleled occurrence.
Dr Helen Baker from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), who advises the government, stated, “This is the first time we have collated deaths in all species since the initial signs of high mortality in autumn-winter 2021.” Baker further emphasised that the compiled data demonstrates both the widespread distribution of the disease across the UK and higher minimum estimates of losses compared to earlier figures. Estimating the number of wild birds that have perished presents challenges due to factors such as remote locations, birds falling into the sea, and inadequate bird flu monitoring for wild birds last year.
Reports have indicated distressing instances of birds plummeting from the sky, underscoring the severity of this outbreak. Seabirds, in particular, face a potential catastrophe. Given that seabirds typically have longer lifespans, it takes them an average of around five years to reach breeding age. Thus, a rapid and significant decline in seabird populations poses a severe and urgent threat to the future diversity of seabirds in the UK. Conservationists at the Wildlife Trust claim that they have never witnessed such high mortality before.
The impact on poultry farms
The implications of this outbreak extend beyond the wild bird population and could have serious consequences for commercial poultry as well. Disease can spread from wild birds to commercial flocks either directly or indirectly. Direct transmission occurs through contact between birds, while indirect transmission can happen through contamination of feed and water sources, or by carrying faecal matter on boots or vehicle tires and spreading it around the farm.
Considering the high risk of avian influenza originating from the sky, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officers urge poultry farmers to implement robust biosecurity measures to minimise the risk. A sound biosecurity strategy not only reduces the chances of disease entering the farm but also mitigates the spread of disease within the farm if it is introduced.
At Livetec, our biosecurity team collaborates with farmers to provide year-round protection for their birds, not just during the usual avian influenza season or migratory bird periods. Our solutions are tailored to mitigate the risk of disease incursion. We assist in establishing contingency and emergency plans that can be swiftly implemented in worst-case scenarios.
Avian influenza has long been a huge concern for UK poultry farmers in recent times – don’t be complacent. Contact us to discover how we can assist you with our biosecurity and contingency plans here.