Bird flu death toll on Farne Islands passes more than 3,000


Thousands of seabirds have died in an outbreak of avian flu on the Farne Islands in the worst disaster to hit its colonies in nearly 100 years.

The National Trust, which cares for the islands, has found more than 3,000 dead birds but estimated ten times more may have fallen into the sea. The charity wants an urgent response but the government said it could only take "limited effective actions".

The islands off the Northumberland coast are home to about 200,000 birds. The Farnes are an internationally important habitat for 23 species including Puffins, Arctic Terns, Guillemots, Razorbills, Sandwich Terns and Common Terns. They were closed to the public earlier this month to try and prevent the spread of bird flu.

Arctic Tern is one of the species impacted by avian flu on the Farnes (Andrew Jordan).

Some of the dead birds found were ringed, which revealed details of their travel logged with the BTO. Casualties include an Arctic Tern which had flown from the Farne Islands to Antarctica eight times during its lifetime, covering a distance of more than 230,000 km. Also discovered was a 16-year-old Kittiwake which was ringed on the islands in 2006, and a four-year-old Kittiwake which may have returned to breed on the islands for the first time having spent most of its life on the North Atlantic.

Farne Islands general manager, Simon Lee, said: "The National Trust has cared for the Farne Islands for just under 100 years, and there are no records of anything so potentially damaging to our already endangered seabird colonies."

Teams of rangers who live and work on the islands have been removing the birds so they can be incinerated. They have been wearing full PPE to collect the carcasses and avoid further contamination to healthy birds.

Ben McCarthy, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, said: "The scale of this disaster calls for an urgent national response plan for the virus in wild birds. We need a more coordinated approach to ensure effective monitoring, surveillance and reporting to support research into the impacts this deadly disease is having on our wild birds across the UK.

"There is a lack of clear and effective guidance and arrangements for disease control, and we need to urgently develop mitigation measures to reduce the further spread in the coming months as birds migrate back into UK waters."

The National Trust said it would work with conservational partners including the RSPB and BTO to help.