RSPB press release

Great Skua. Photo: Tim Melling

Huge concern for UK’s seabirds as number dying from Avian Influenza continues to increase

  • Impacts of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) on wild birds are intensifying fast in Scotland with reports of thousands of dead or dying seabirds and presumed cases now appearing in England.
  • Shetland appears to be most heavily affected, but increasing reports from other places around the country with many species affected
  • Last year HPAI was responsible for the loss of more than one third of the Svalbard barnacle goose population that winters around the Solway estuary. Seabirds, many of which are already struggling, are likely to be harder hit as slower breeding rates could mean long-term population declines
  • The RSPB is calling on UK governments to urgently develop a response plan and to see this as a wake-up call that action must be taken to address other threats facing our seabirds

Over the past few weeks, large numbers of dead and dying seabirds have been seen across the UK.

Shetland appears to be the most heavily affected, but there are increasing numbers of reports from many of Scotland’s islands and coastlines as well as and presumed cases appearing in England.. As reports increase, the number of species affected also appears to be increasing.

There have been reports of widespread deaths at great skua colonies in Shetland, Fair Isle, Orkney, the Western Isles, Handa, the Flannan Isles and St Kilda. As well as widespread reports of sick and dead gannets at key colonies – most notably Noss in Shetland but also Troup Head in NE Scotland, Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth and elsewhere.

The RSPB’s director of conservation, Katie-Jo Luxton said “Britain’s seabird populations are of global significance. The UK holds 56% of the worlds gannet population and Scotland has 60% of the world’s great skuas. Both these species are amber listed. Our seabirds are already under massive pressure from human impacts including climate change, lack of prey fish, deaths through entanglement in fishing gear and development pressure. There is now great concern for the impacts of bird flu on our already beleaguered wild birds.”

Last winter HPAI devasted numbers of barnacle geese in the Solway with estimates of a loss of more than a third of the world’s Svalbard population.

This spring, Scotland’s globally important seabird populations are now bearing the brunt and fears are that the long-term impact on these species could be much more severe.

Seabirds are long-lived, take longer to reach breeding age and tend to produce fewer offspring than geese meaning impacts of high adult mortality on future numbers could be much more significant and any recovery take far longer. Yet, seabirds also already face several significant threats and have already suffered severe declines in numbers over recent decades.

The RSPB believes that UK governments must act now to both respond to the developing situation with HPAI and to ensure measures are put in place to reduce the other threats faced by the UK’s seabirds.

Katie-Jo Luxton said “Our seabird populations have halved since the 1980s. Now, a highly mutable and deadly new form of avian influenza, which originated in poultry, is killing our wild seabirds in large numbers. We urge UK governments to develop a response plan urgently – to coordinate surveillance and testing, disturbance minimisation, carcass disposal and biosecurity.

“In the longer term, we urge much higher importance be given to prioritising and funding seabird conservation, so we help make our seabird populations more resilient to these diseases alongside other pressures.”

If you come across dead or sick birds, do not touch them. Instead, please report them as soon as possible to the DEFRA helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

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2 Replies to “RSPB press release”

  1. Hi Mark,
    This is a dreadful situation, probably the largest impact on seabird populations in my lifetime (almost 70 years).
    The response to HPAI appears to be unco-ordinated at best, chaotic at worst.
    From what I understand DEFRA is not interested in wild birds, only domestic flocks. One of the initial outbreaks was at Loch Fleet with 160 birds of 20 species recorded.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-61436063
    DEFRA tested 4 birds (Eider ducks), 2 were positive, 2 negative. Was this incident recorded as two birds with HPAI?
    There is no co-ordinated recording system. We need a proper reporting system. This is leading to piecemeal recording.
    Well done to RSPB for publicising the issue but government agencies need to take a lead role. In Scotland, NatureScot needs to set up a task force with co-ordination across the UK by JNCC.
    This is a fast moving situation that requires a speedy response.
    Urgent action is required.

  2. Calling for this government to see anything as a wake up call are doomed, the dozy, lazy, sods would rather have a lie in while the servants take care of things.

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