Avoid feeding wild birds during Avian Flu outbreak says environment ministry

Image above: swans on the River Thames; photograph by Anna Kunst

Avian flu killing wild birds across London

The public is being urged not to feed or handle sick or injured wild birds, during the ongoing outbreak of bird flu.

More than 40 birds have been found dead across two London Royal parks, with over 250 avian flu cases confirmed – the UK’s biggest ever outbreak. A total of 256 cases of bird flu have been reported in England since the outbreak began in October 2021, with 136 cases reported in the UK in the last two months.

The outbreak is affecting mostly geese and swans. There have been reports of a small number of wild birds found dead in Richmond upon Thames with suspected avian flu and sick geese spotted along the riverbank in Chiswick also.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have introduced mandatory housing measures for birds earlier in November in a bid to curb the outbreak, which is primarily being driven by wild birds. All bird keepers are now legally required to keep their birds indoors and follow stringent biosecurity measures to protect their flocks from the disease.

In line with Defra’s attempts to stop birds gathering, the Royal Parks have issued a separate warning to the public to not feed wild birds during the outbreak:

“Feeding encourages birds to group together which increases the risk of transmission of avian influenza between birds. Dogs should also be on leads near water and kept away from birds”.

Image above: Macken Brothers on Chiswick High Road

Christmas turkeys unaffected say local butchers 

It’s thought the UK has lost up to 40% of its free-range turkey flock due to bird flu in recent weeks. The British Poultry Council chief executive, Richard Griffiths, told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee last Tuesday (29 December) that free-range poultry had been hit “very, very hard”.

Half the free-range poultry grown for Christmas in the UK have died or been culled because of the bird flu epidemic, he said.

Despite this, local butchers have said they do not anticipate shortages in the run up to Christmas as Defra measures have had a positive impact.

Wyndhams on Chiswick High Rd told The Chiswick Calendar on Monday (5 December):

“Most farmers now have been told to bring them inside just for the safekeeping of them. The [orders] we have placed are sort of guaranteed”

Macken Brothers on Turnham Green Terrace said there had been no worries about stock levels and “fingers crossed” there would not be any.

Image above: wild birds near the River Thames; photograph Jennifer Griffiths

Low risk to humans, but sick birds should be reported to Defra

The risk to human health from the virus is very low according to public health officials and food standards bodies say that bird flu poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat, they say.

Defra advise anyone who comes across a dead or sick bird not to touch it, but to report it to their helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

Dr Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, said:

“We are seeing a growing number of bird flu cases on commercial farms and in back yard birds across the country driven by high levels of disease within wild birds. Unfortunately we expect the number of cases to continue to rise over the coming months as migratory birds return to the UK, bringing with them further risk of disease that can spread into our kept flocks.

“We’re taking action already by implementing a national Avian Influenza Prevention Zones and housing order, but it is important that all bird keepers – wherever they are in the country – ensure that cleanliness and hygiene are at the forefront of their minds to keep their flocks safe and limit the impact of the outbreak.”

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

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