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Scotland's chief vet confirms avian flu cases at Sutherland coastal reserve

By Niall Harkiss

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Ecologist Peter Stronach discovered more than 70 dead birds on the shores around Golspie
Ecologist Peter Stronach discovered more than 70 dead birds on the shores around Golspie

Scotland's chief vet has confirmed that "about half" of bird carcasses found at a Sutherland beach have tested positive for avian flu.

A growing number of dead birds have been recorded on beaches at Loch Fleet and Littleferry near Golspie in recent months, with a further 160 carcasses found this week.

Chief veterinary officer, Sheila Voas, said: "Some, but not all of the carcases collected from Loch Fleet have tested positive for avian flu, so we can be confident that at least some of the mortality is due to it.

"We don't have any further information about cause of death in others, though there have been considerable losses in other areas from starvation this year."

The CVO has stressed that there is no cause for public concern, although bird keepers are encouraged to remain vigilant.

"This strain of avian flu has not to date been reported to cause disease in humans, even those in close contact. However, the advice is always that people should not touch dead wild birds as there are other pathogens that could cause disease."

"It is important that those keeping birds practice really good hygiene and biosecurity to keep the disease out of their flocks, such as keeping wild birds away from food and preventing poultry access to standing water which attracts wild birds."

Professional ornithologist Peter Stronach discovered over 70 dead birds while on a beach walk at Loch Fleet national nature reserve on Wednesday.

The following evening he returned to investigate further along the perimeter and found 160 dead or dying birds of 20 different species.

Mr Stronach said: "As this has been confirmed as avian flu, it’s important that members of the public avoid touching any dead or dying wild birds, equally important is that if they find any in there local areas they report them to the DEFRA hotline.

"Our main concern now is that carcasses which are being left in the beach and the shore will continue to spread the virus into other species including raptors such as red kite and white-tailed sea eagle, as well as corvids and gulls.

"It is incredibly important that we immediately check all other pink-footed goose roost sites in the area to see how widespread and serious the problem is.

"We have had avian flu in previous years but this is the biggest outbreak ever this year and is unusually spreading into the breeding season, the virus seems to have become more transmissible."

A spokesperson for Highland Council said: "The environmental health team have responsibilities under Avian influenza legislation and we work with APHA and landowners on the issue. We are aware of the issues at Loch Fleet and are liaising with APHA and the landowner."

Advice on dealing with dead or sick birds is available at www.gov.scot/publications/avian-influenza-bird-flu/pages/dead-or-sick-wild-birds-what-to-do

Reports of avian flu cases found in the Highlands can be found on the UK government website.

Members of the public are asked to report dead wild birds to Defra on 03459 335577.

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