Defra is today trying to blame wild birds rather than poor biosecurity for the bird flu outbreak in Suffolk.Defra's preliminary epidemiological report, published on its website, ignores the likelihood that one infected commercial turkey or duck brought the disease to the farm.Defra also failed to take action quickly enough to prevent the potential spread of the virus into wild birds after its discovery. Last Friday in public, and more than a week earlier in private, the RSPB and other experts urged the government to plough and disinfect soil where the virus could still be thriving, and put in place bird scaring measures to keep wild birds away, yet these measures were only employed yesterday.Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's Conservation Director, said: 'There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that wild birds are to blame for bird flu in Suffolk. A migrating bird could have carried the disease here without showing symptoms but imported poultry could have done exactly the same.'Defra has stepped up its monitoring of wild birds in the area and has unearthed nothing to say that wild birds are the carriers. The government openly admits that biosecurity at the farm is poor. It has been poor ever since bird flu was found and there is no reason to think it was any better before the outbreak.''There have been no cases of bird flu in wild birds in the UK or western Europe since August and the source of the Suffolk outbreak remains a mystery. It is staggering that Defra has taken almost three weeks to take action to prevent wild birds becoming the latest victims of the disease.'If Defra really believed wild birds were implicated, then its delay in implementing bird scaring measures at the infected farm is shocking and bizarre. Defra and the poultry industry should be doing more to protect wild birds from coming into contact with infected farmed birds.'The Defra report can be downloaded from their website (PDF, 573Kb).
The cause of the bird flu outbreak in Suffolk remains unknown but carriage by wild birds seems increasingly unlikely.
The RSPB is urging Defra to immediately put in place stringent measures to prevent wild birds picking up the virus from the farms where the disease was found.
Dr Mark Avery, Conservation Director, said: 'Defra must make sure there is absolutely no chance of the virus spreading into wild birds. It could still be there in the soil where birds like rooks, crows, starlings and pigeons could be foraging for food.
'It seems less and less likely that wild birds brought this disease here and Defra and the land owners must ensure that wild birds do not end up as victims of this outbreak.' There are a number of measures necessary to minimise the chances of the bird flu virus surviving. These include disinfecting and ploughing land and keeping wild birds away from affected farms.
Dr Avery said: 'Efficient bird scaring is the key. It will not be enough to use deterrents that birds will quickly get used to.'
The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza has been confirmed in turkeys on premises near Diss on the Norfolk/ Suffolk border. The premises also house ducks and geese. Contingency plans have been activated, and Defra has confirmed that all birds on the premises will be slaughtered.
A 3 km Protection Zone and a 10 km Surveillance Zone have been established around the premises. Inside these zones, poultry movements are restricted and all birds must be housed or otherwise isolated from contact with wild birds. A wider Restricted Zone has also been established, covering much of Norfolk and the whole of Suffolk. This also requires the isolation of poultry from wild birds. Poultry movements within this zone can take place, but movements are not permitted out of the new zone at present.
The RSPB continues to play an active part in Defra’s targeted surveillance programme for avian influenza, with nature reserves across England, Scotland and Wales contributing regular information.
There have been no cases of avian influenza in wild birds on the near continent since the middle of August.