Tuesday, July 26, 2022
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It’s all the time touching to get a private reply from a Minister of the Crown – Mark Avery

Hen/Poultry flu.

A few days in the past the RSPB despatched out a strongly worded press launch, which I reproduced right here, which was entitled ‘Defra asleep on the wheel in chicken flu emergency’.

I tweeted about it later that day:


I acquired a response from Richard Benyon himself:


It’s all the time good to have gotten a Minister’s consideration so I adopted up with a thread of tweets which I’ve edited all the way down to this extra readable model (however with out modifying the content material);

Don’t shoot the messenger Richard. It’s the RSPB that thinks Defra is asleep on the wheel. Personally, I’m undecided that Defra is aware of the place the wheel is…

However anyway, you sound moderately defensive.

I used to be in an NGO assembly with Defra final week – have you ever had a report from that assembly? Defra appears to suppose that chicken/poultry flu is solely an financial situation however it’s now a conservation situation and might be a public well being situation too. You, ministers, want far more understanding of the biology of the difficulty to have the ability to deal with any of these points.

Saying ‘wild birds’ again and again doesn’t actually do very a lot. Which wild birds? The Defra assertion on the finish of yesterday’s Guardian piece is hardly the response of a division on prime of the topic.

What’s Defra’s view on the present state of affairs? For poultry, for conservation and for public well being?

What’s Defra’s view of the long run eventualities – for poultry, for conservation and for public well being?

Your surveillance is barely of lifeless birds – isn’t it? And a really restricted vary of species.

How do you suppose that Roseate Terns received chicken flu on Coquet Island? They got here again to the UK in Might after spending the winter off West Africa. Bit puzzling isn’t it?

As a biologist I’d be gulls in additional element – what do your specialists say?

Gulls (a number of species) is only a guess. The place may gulls choose up chicken flu virus? They’re scavengers – is that related? Among the different species which have examined +ve are additionally scavengers however possibly that’s only a fluke.

May or not it’s attainable to check reside wild birds? I don’t know – do you? Possibly a programme of monitoring of a spread of species is required. By analogy to covid, it might be useful to have the equiv of lateral circulate exams for some wild chicken species.

If scavenging is a possible route for publicity (is it?) then that has implications for corpse removing. Ought to it occur or not?

Has Defra advised nature reserves NOT to take away corpses? Have you learnt? I hear of a nature reserve on the coast the place there have been our bodies of terns and gulls littering the positioning however corpse removing was not allowed by Defra – is that true? On what grounds? Human well being? In that case, what does that say for most people. Might you make clear please?

By the best way, these seabird corpses have been being scavenged by Carrion Crows (the clue is within the identify).

However it isn’t as much as me to advise you, Minister. You’ve an entire division stuffed with specialists on which you’ll name. Have you ever referred to as? Have you ever actually appeared into this correctly?

In that case, why is even the RSPB saying that Defra is asleep on the wheel? I used to be by no means that outspoken after I labored for them, was I?

There are lots of wildlife conservation NGOs who’re struggling to get any smart or constant recommendation out of your division on this situation. Defra must show some grasp of this vary of points – possibly making a press release or two may assist?


My free recommendation to Lord Benyon and different Defra ministers, and the civil servants concerned, could be to get some fairly good recommendation fairly rapidly. There’s type for Defra and its predecessor departments to get significantly thrown off track by ailments – Ash dieback? BSE? Foot and Mouth? In actual fact F&M was a significant component within the establishing of Defra as a division and the demise of MAFF. However lately it feels that Defra has turn out to be an increasing number of MAFF-like.


A number of extra factors to observe up:

  1. that assembly with Defra: a gaggle of NGOs did have a web based assembly with Defra some time in the past – we had been looking for a gathering for a very long time.  I received’t touch upon the content material of the assembly besides to say that if I had full confidence in Defra I wouldn’t nonetheless be banging on about their place. And I presume we are able to take it that the RSPB really feel the identical since their press launch stated what it did.
  2. the Defra response to the Guardian piece is a non-response. It signifies no grasp of what’s taking place and no indication of any motion they’re taking. It’s a 73-word model of ‘No remark’.  It might be true that there is no such thing as a solution to shield wild chicken populations from chicken/poultry flu – however clear recommendation on how one offers with carcasses, and who’s going to do this work (landowners? native authorities? no-one?) is an effective, and urgent place to start out. What’s the Defra recommendation? Defra says that ‘clear public steerage has been issued to not deal with their [wild birds’] carcasses.’ I believe the penetration of that recommendation to most people could be vanishingly low, don’t you?  Why does that recommendation exist in any respect? Presumably on public well being grounds? May it not be a good suggestion to provide, or really to have given, some extra recommendation to the general public who’re happening vacation to seashores at the moment?  What too is the recommendation to chicken ringers about dealing with wild birds – see what the BTO says – but it surely’s all a bit tentative? Or to the general public about dealing with sick-looking birds? Or to rescue centres about accepting these or different birds?
  3. does Defra care concerning the conservation penalties of chicken/poultry flu? Does it give it any thought? Possibly they need to inform us.
  4. social media is usually a supply of solutions to questions. I requested whether or not it was attainable to check wild birds for chicken/poultry flu and received a short reply thus, ‘Definitely attainable, take a look at Iceni Glycoscience’ however a fast look right here didn’t inform me a lot (most likely resulting from my ignorance).
  5. Since 1 Might (an arbitrary date associated to chicken breeding seasons and our realisation that many extra wild birds have been being affected this yr) the one new UK circumstances of chicken/poultry flu in captive birds seem (as a result of the knowledge is unfold over 4 nationwide web sites and isn’t that straightforward to interrogate in any case) to be these:
  • Dartington, Devon, 21 July
  • Tiverton, Devon, 8 July
  • Birsay, Orkney, 6 July
  • Rother, East Sussex, 21 June
  • Rother, East Sussex, 15 June
  • Ludlow, Shropshire, 7 June
  • Whalsay, Shetland, 30 Might
  • Southwell, Notts, 19 Might
  • Lowdham, Notts, 7 Might

I can’t see any circumstances on this time interval in Wales or Northern Eire and it’s hardly a tidal wave of circumstances in Scotland and England. There are not any restrictions, as I perceive it, on permitting poultry open air. Let’s see what occurs, however there’s a little bit of a mismatch between chicken/poultry flu ripping by way of some wild chicken populations and a reasonably low price of recent circumstances in industrial premises. And though the 2 Scottish circumstances have been on Orkney and Shetland, seabird hotspots, the unfold of economic circumstances doesn’t notably mirror something we expect we all know concerning the outbreaks in wild birds. It’s a conundrum so far as I’m involved.

Right here’s an instance of a duff monitoring scheme, in Northern Eire;


Within the absence of a DEFRA motion plan, the RSPB have supplied this:

5 issues that might/ought to/have to be completed now to assist wild birds.

  1. Arrange Process Pressure to develop Nationwide Response Plan for HPAI in Wild Birds in every of the 4 nations of the UK, and construct cross-UK coordination and knowledge sharing.
  2. Clear steerage on wild chicken carcass removing and disposal in excessive threat areas.
  3. Develop efficient monitoring, surveillance, analysis and reporting programs to construct real-time understanding of the virus and its progress in wild birds.
  4. Assist construct resilience in seabird populations. A number of threads to this. eg shut sandeel fishery; scale back seabird deaths from bycatch in fishing gear; the event of marine renewables minimises additional hurt to seabirds.
  5. Undertake speedy threat evaluation on whether or not it’s prudent to launch massive numbers of non-native gamebirds when HPAI is current throughout the nation.






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