New fatalities have been reported around Findhorn Bay in Moray, where at least 22 pink-footed geese and an unusual number of gulls have been found dead. Members of the public and wildfowl shooters are being asked to stay away from the area to reduce the risk of spreading the highly transmissible virus.
Officials from NatureScot are awaiting results from tests on the carcasses to confirm if the deaths were due to avian flu or alternative causes. But the national agency and Moray Council are calling for a voluntary hold on shooting and walking in the surrounding area as a precautionary measure.
“We are very concerned about the impact of avian flu on our wild bird populations, particularly with these latest suspected cases in Moray,” said Alastair MacGugan, NatureScot’s wildlife management manager. “It’s crucial we respond to the evolving situation quickly to reduce the chances of the disease spreading further and faster in Scotland.”
A blanket ban on shooting geese across the Moray coast is not warranted at this stage, he said, despite a rise in cases. But people are being asked to “exercise restraint” until more information is available.
Avian influenza has been around for a century. It usually flares up in autumn before fizzling out, but this year’s outbreak has lasted longer than usual.
The current H5N1 strain is highly infectious and deadly. It can spread through entire flocks within a matter of days, through droppings and saliva or contaminated feed and water.
Hundreds of thousands of wild birds and millions of domestic ones have already died from it worldwide.
According to officials, the danger to the public from bird flu is very low, but people are advised to avoid touching sick or dead birds and keep dogs on a lead in areas where infections are present.
“While there is little risk to human health from the virus, it is one to take seriously as we see bird populations impacted considerably,” said Colin Bell, environmental protection manager for Moray Council. “So we’re grateful to all members of the public who continue to exercise caution around sick or dead birds in Moray.”