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Gannets on Bass Rock
Photograph: Shutterstock

Everyone should be talking about bird flu right now

The strain has killed more than 86 million birds in Europe and the USA alone

Written by
Faima Bakar
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It’s been a long time – and one major global pandemic – since bird flu last caused international concern back in 2007 and 2008. But now the disease (aka H5N1) is devastating bird populations around the world once again. Gannets in Scotland, demoiselle cranes in India and common cranes in Israel are among the species worst affected. 

Since spring 2021, when the new strain of Avian flu was first detected in poultry and wild birds, it has killed more than 86 million birds in the USA and Europe alone, according to The Financial Times. This has been mostly through culling, which involves the mass slaughter of birds in areas where the disease has been detected.  

Hundreds if not thousands of gannets are already thought to have been wiped out on Bass Rock to the east of Scotland. And on the Isles of Scilly to the west of Cornwall, the flu has been detected and more than 40 birds have died amid fears that the condition has spread widely. 

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust hoped the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) would help carry out more testing and culling where necessary but said their earliest arrival would be Wednesday. Last week, culling was carried out by Defra elsewhere in Cornwall where an outbreak was confirmed on Friday.

Julian Branscombe, of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, told Time Out: ‘We’ve been seeing increasing numbers of dead or sick birds washing up over the last week, particularly gannets and herring gulls. Members of the public have reported over 40 carcasses now, with other birds offshore showing signs of illness.’

Branscombe said neighbouring gannet colonies in the Channel Islands and South and West Wales have confirmed Avian flu cases, leaving the Trust highly concerned about transmission.

He adds: ‘We are hopeful that Defra will be responding more quickly from now on, as the results will be imperative to helping us manage the situation. Right now, we need a quick response and joined-up thinking across government departments, so that we don’t see the same devastation witnessed in other areas of the UK.’

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