Posted: Wed 5th Jul 2023

Devastating bird flu outbreak decimating Flintshire Gull and Tern population raised in Senedd

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jul 5th, 2023

The Welsh government is facing urgent calls to act amid a devastating bird flu outbreak in Flintshire, one of the largest colonies of common terns and black-headed gulls in Wales.

The outbreak, stretching across the Dee estuary, has seen hundreds of birds perish.

Since early spring, over 40% of the Common Terns in the Shotton colony have perished due to bird flu

Experts fear that it may take years for the numbers to rebound. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

There have been reports that over 200 gulls have died, and this year, not a single black-headed gull chick has managed to fledge, a stark contrast to the usual sight of hundreds doing so along the Dee Estuary.

Plaid MS Llyr Gruffydd addressed the issue in the Welsh Assembly today, Wednesday, July 5.

The North Wales MS asked for an update on the highly pathogenic avian influenza’s impact on wild birds and the steps the Welsh Government is taking in response.

More pointedly, Gruffydd called for an urgent seabird conservation strategy in light of the flu’s catastrophic impact on the seabird populations.

Speaking in the Senedd Chamber, he said: “I’m sure will be aware of the devastating bird flu outbreak in Flintshire amongst Wales’s largest colonies of common terns and black-headed gulls now at these sites, which span the Dee estuary.”

“It’s estimated that hundreds of birds have died, and it’s been reported that not a single black-headed gull chick has been seen to fledge from the site this year, where normally there would be many hundreds.”

“And we also know that last year, on the RSPB’s Grassholm island in Pembrokeshire, it was estimated that many thousands had died of bird flu there.”

“Gruffydd said: So, maybe you can give us an update on the situation in relation to highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds, and what action the Welsh Government is taking.”

“But more specifically in relation to your portfolio, of course, given the devastating and immediate impacts of this highly pathogenic strain of bird flu that is hitting our sea bird colonies so intensely across the UK, do you recognise that it must now be an urgent priority for the Welsh Government to publish a seabird conservation strategy, without further delay?” He added.

Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change echoed Gruffydd’s concerns, describing the situation as “very worrying indeed” and the gull situation as “absolutely devastating”.

She assured that both her officials are working together to devise an immediate short-term response and a long-term conservation strategy.

Julie James said: “We saw the Manx shearwater affected last year. You’re absolutely right about the gulls—it’s absolutely devastating, and we’re just as concerned as everyone else.”

She said: We are “working together to see what can be done in the very short, immediate term, and then obviously on a longer term strategy for better conservation and, actually, better regulation as well.’”

“So, we’re very keen to make sure that there are protected places in Wales where human beings just don’t go during important parts of the nesting and fledging cycle.”

The Chief Veterinary Officer of Wales, Dr Richard Irvine, emphasised the importance of vigilance and adherence to strict hygiene and biosecurity measures to protect birds from diseases like avian influenza. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

While the risk to the general public remains low, Dr Irvine urged people not to touch any sick or dead birds they may encounter and instead report sightings to DEFRA. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Dr. Irvine underscored the need for bird keepers to maintain impeccable levels of hygiene and biosecurity, particularly in Flintshire where the wild bird population has been affected by the disease. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The devastating impact of the bird flu outbreak in Deeside’s gull and tern colony highlights the vulnerability of bird populations to infectious diseases. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Efforts are now underway to assess the extent of the outbreak, understand its implications for the local ecosystem, and implement measures to prevent further spread. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

  • Sightings of ill or deceased birds should be reported to DEFRA via their online reporting tool or their helpline at 03459 33 55 77. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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