Farming Today has carried out what they call an investigation into backyard flocks of poultry that have not been housed despite this being the law. Their investigation appeared to consist of taking a phone call from a listener and then going and talking to someone. I can’t say I’ve carried out an investigation but I predict that north Essex/south Suffolk is quite a good place to find domestic ducks still swimming around on village ponds and gaggles of white farmyard geese running around…errr….farmyards. The fact is that Defra hasn’t got its message out widely enough and nor have the farming unions. And no one seems to be enforcing the action anyway. Have the police been asked to knock on the doors of any people with poultry still running around their fields, farmyards or villages? Most of the ‘backyard’ flocks I saw were ‘farmyard’ flocks.
Farming Today also reported on the lifting of bird flu restrictions from the end of February in most parts of the country. But first they had a discussion about how wild birds transmit the disease to captive birds. We heard from Prof Donald Broom that waterfowl, particularly diving ducks, are the species most ‘prone’ to bird flu (although, rather negligently, the word prone was not defined or explained) and also that ‘the reality is that the risk is extremely low except when they (poultry) might be coming in contact with waterfowl, and sometimes that might be through people. Probably the major method of transmission is people getting bird droppings on their clothes and boots and taking it into the poultry unit.‘. Charlotte Smith couldn’t get away from the idea that it was wild birds dive-bombing poultry farms with their infected droppings that was the main cause of the spread of the disease so the Prof explained that birds are not defecating all over the place in flight and that isn’t, it really isn’t, the most likely transmission route. It is much more likely to be a farmer who has goose shit on their boots.
This useful piece of practical information has been a long time emerging and has a lot of implications for biosecurity in poultry farms. It would have been sensible if it had emerged weeks and weeks ago so that poultry farmers could also get away from looking at a wheeling flock of Starlings as a big threat to their stock and think rather more about washing their wellies, thinking about where their kids were going when away from the farm etc etc
I remain sceptical as to whether we know nearly enough about how bird flu is transmitted but if it is from wild waterfowl droppings then that is a very different kettle of fish from wild birds in general. It is notable that only three diving ducks are listed by Defra as having tested positively for H5N8 in the UK this winter: two Pochard in Merseyside (I think that is the Marshside RSPB nature reserve at Southport) and a Tufted Duck in Lancashire (which the RSPB seems to think is a Wigeon).
One new case of H5N8 in wild birds, a single wild bird, was reported by Defra last week – a Whooper Swan in Norfolk.