The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) is temporarily prohibiting the release of captive bred gamebirds and mallards for shooting in the UK this summer. This is to help limit the spread of avian influenza.
Over 40 million pheasants and 2.6 million mallard ducks are reared and then released in the British countryside every year, with releases beginning in July and August. Many birds are imported from Europe to mature and kept in pens, whilst other birds are reared in game farms across the United Kingdom. When birds are transported to release pens, they can quite easily have contact with wild birds (which may carry diseases like avian influenza) and can put many premises at risk.
As stated on the gov.uk website, after game birds are set free, they are considered as wild birds under the bird flu regulations.
Wild birds must not be release into the wild if they are in:
- A disease control zone
- An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) with housing measures
Richard Jones, Chair of the National Farmers Union in Montgomeryshire, Wales, said no birds should be released from the farm this season, stating “The release of pheasants and game birds will hugely increase the risk to my birds. Once they are released, they are wild birds and will mix with other wild birds with avian flu. It will become a humongous problem. Meanwhile we are not allowed to release our birds outdoors because we are in the restriction zone.”
The RSPB wants a permanent ban on bird releases to prevent the spread of avian influenza. The charity is unsure of how many game birds are tested for diseases before being released for the shooting season, and if game birds are not tested for diseases, this can increase the rate of avian influenza and other diseases from spreading to farms.
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