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Workshop spotlights the impact of Bird Flu in UK wild birds

News Item 2023

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) invited more than 100 animal health experts, virologists, ecologists and conservation practitioners to a two-day workshop to assess the impact of Bird Flu (HPAI H5N1), discuss management options and identify information needs.

BTO and JNCC have published a report from the workshop. The report describes what we know about the impact of the disease in wild birds and sets out what is required to assess the vulnerability of different species, identifying current research and conservation knowledge gaps. It will inform the ongoing response to a disease that continues to have a devastating impact on vulnerable populations of wild birds.

The report identifies three areas in which greater knowledge is required urgently:

  • a better understanding of how the virus is spread between individuals (including on how it spreads between seabird colonies);
  • an assessment of the scale of losses seen at our internationally important seabird colonies (something that will require additional resources to be directed to breeding season surveys in 2023 and beyond); and
  • identification of effective practical approaches to managing future outbreaks.

The value of existing monitoring schemes for identifying species that may have been particularly affected is highlighted. Reports of dead birds carrying uniquely numbered metal leg rings, for example, have revealed extremely high mortality compared to previous years for seven species: Gannet, Great Skua, Guillemot, Arctic Tern, Sandwich Tern, Kittiwake and Mute Swan. The monitoring of wild bird populations remains critical if we are to understand fully the impact of HPAI and deliver conservation solutions. Seabird experts, including those involved in the national seabird monitoring scheme, the BTO/JNCC Seabird Monitoring Programme, have assessed which species and sites need monitoring in the coming breeding season.

The report also assessed the potential for different interventions to reduce the impact of bird flu on populations. This suggested that there is probably little that can be done to reduce the spread amongst wild birds, but highlighted the removal of carcasses of dead infected birds as the intervention most likely in certain circumstances to have an impact, particularly on species that may become infected through scavenging dead infected birds.

The workshop report is available through the BTO website: Highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds in the United Kingdom in 2022: impacts, planning for future outbreaks, and conservation and research priorities. Report on virtual workshops held in November 2022

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