The impact of bird flu on wild birds is seen to be growing, even though the governments across the UK are proving to be pretty useless in having a view on this important conservation issue. Much of the impact this summer has been seen in seabird colonies such as gannetries and tern colonies (eg see here and here).
Yesterday an NGO meeting with Defra was put back to next Tuesday – perhaps because Defra was in a different type of turmoil due to Whitehall events.
Defra publish a weekly list of bird flu cases in wild birds. These lists are simply the results of analyses of dead birds collected in a rather random, and grudging, manner by the authorities. These lists do not in any way describe the scale of the issue but they are of some interest. In the latest updates, which cover tests reported in the week up to and including last Sunday (3 July) my eye was drawn to two records of Hen Harrier; one from Craven district (the Skipton area) and the other from Harrogate area. I assume that these were nesting, or perhaps nestling, birds found dead on breeding sites on the moors – that’s what the vague locations would suggest.
The Defra list of wild birds is so utterly vague and pathetic that it tells us very little, but two positive tests for bird flu in Hen Harriers show that bird flu is present in wild birds not just in waterfowl and a few gulls, and not just in the crowded seabird colonies from Shetland south, but strongly suggest bird flu is also on the remote moorlands of our uplands.
In fact, looking at the list of the previous week, we see records of bird flu in a dead White-tailed Eagle in Highland Region and two dead Moorhens in Richmond on Thames. Bird flu in rare and common species, from coast to moorlands and from Shetland to London. This is a major issue which is not being given the attention it should have by the authorities or the media.
Bird flu is an economic issue for poultry farmers but this year it has also become a conservation issue for wild birds on an unknown but quite considerable scale. It is to be hoped that it does not become a public health issue too.
Defra must begin to treat this issue with a great deal more seriousness and much better monitoring and science. So too might the Department of Health give rather more thought to the numbers of dead seabirds washing up on beaches around the UK as we enter the holiday season.