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Moray Councillor Draeyk van der Horn calls for NatureScot, Scotland’s Avian Flu Task Force and the Scottish Government’s Chief Veterinary Officer to act now as avian flu kills birds across the country

By Garry McCartney

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Cllr van der Horn found a dead Razorbill on Findhorn beach which could have succumbed to bird flu.
Cllr van der Horn found a dead Razorbill on Findhorn beach which could have succumbed to bird flu.

A LOCAL Moray Councillor is calling on national authorities to help prevent the spread of avian flu.

Cllr Draeyk van der Horn (Forres, Green) has reported rapidly increasing numbers of birds in the area dying - including at Findhorn - but has been disappointed with the response from NatureScot, Scotland’s Avian Flu Task Force and the Scottish Government’s Chief Veterinary Officer.

He explained: “I’m on social media pages such as Moray Wildlife Sightings and I’m seeing dozens of reports of bird deaths. I’ve had reports from Findhorn and Buckie. I’ve also spoken to a fellow councillor in Lossie where there are reports of many dead birds, including on rooftops and in gardens. I recently drove through Kinloss and spotted one dead by the school entrance and four more further along on the road past the army barracks. I’ve also had a report from a lifeboat of hundreds floating out at sea off the coast at Stonehaven.”

Scotland’s Avian Flu Task Force is on high alert following an increase in reports of dead seabirds around coasts. Monitoring by NatureScot and partners including the British Trust for Ornithology, RSPB Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, has revealed signs that more may be succumbing to the virus.

NatureScot wildlife manager, Alastair MacGugan, confirmed an increase in the number of dead birds being reported, particularly on the east coast.

He said: “This development is really concerning. We are working with the Scottish Government and the Animal and Plant Health Agency to coordinate testing.”

Despite the increasing numbers of dead birds, the risk of avian influenza has reduced to low for all poultry - mandatory requirements were lifted from July 4. A NatureScot spokesperson confirmed Protection Zones, such as were in place in Forres during the last winter, are looked at by the Scottish Government Animal health and welfare department.

She added: “We haven’t received any reports of mortalities from Findhorn so far this summer.”

The Scottish Government also confirmed there have been no confirmed cases of Avian Influenza in Findhorn this summer.

Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas, said: “Avian flu is impacting wild seabird populations across the east coast of the UK. The disease normally impacts bird populations in the winter months. In Scotland, we’ve had a number of confirmed cases but not all carcasses sent for testing have yielded positive results.”

Cllr van der Horn has reported the dead birds he has found.

He said: “Dead birds are not being collected and left as carrion. My ongoing frustration is that so many go unreported, as was the case with the last major outbreak. We need to know if there has been any impact on access to the coast and local poultry movements. My concern is that we move too slowly and we are not taking enough action. A year ago I had direct communication and responses to my reports but not this year.”

Cllr van der Horn is aware too of a focus on the poultry industry.

He said: “It is essential but so too is a focus on our wild birds! The jump of avian flu into mammals is of huge concern for human health so all pathways need to be investigated. Where is the urgency from the chief veterinary officer? My other concern is funding for testing, which I believe have been subject to cuts by the UK government. It would seem to me that lifting the GB-wide Avian Influenza Prevention Zone is starting to look premature.”

He added: The reporting website states they only collect five or more gulls. My reports were below that threshold but why set it at five or more for gulls? This means huge numbers are not being tested so how can we rely on what we are being told if no one is prepared to test? This threshold seems arbitrary and distorts the true impact.”

Avoid touching sick or dead wild birds, and prevent dogs from picking up dead birds. Anyone finding a single dead bird of prey, swan, goose, duck or gull, or five or more dead wild birds of any other species at the same time, should report them via https://www.gov.uk/guidance/report-dead-wild-birds. Alternatively, call 03459 33 55 77.

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