Monday, August 15, 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 hen 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 right down to this extra readable model (however with out enhancing 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 slightly 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 hen/poultry flu is solely an financial problem however it’s now a conservation problem and may very well be a public well being problem too. You, ministers, want way more understanding of the biology of the difficulty to have the ability to deal with any of these points.

Saying ‘wild birds’ time 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 high 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 just of lifeless birds – isn’t it? And a really restricted vary of species.

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

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

Gulls (a number of species) is only a guess. The place would possibly gulls choose up hen 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.

Would possibly or not it’s doable to check dwell wild birds? I don’t know – do you? Perhaps a programme of monitoring of a spread of species is required. By analogy to covid, it could be useful to have the equiv of lateral circulate checks for some wild hen 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 instructed 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. May you make clear please?

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

However it isn’t as much as me to advise you, Minister. You’ve gotten a complete 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 once I labored for them, was I?

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


My free recommendation to Lord Benyon and different Defra ministers, and the civil servants concerned, can be to get some fairly good recommendation fairly shortly. There’s type for Defra and its predecessor departments to get significantly thrown off track by illnesses – Ash dieback? BSE? Foot and Mouth? In truth F&M was a significant factor within the organising of Defra as a division and the demise of MAFF. However in recent times it feels that Defra has grow to be increasingly more MAFF-like.


Just a few extra factors to comply with 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 gained’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 will take it that the RSPB really feel the identical since their press launch mentioned what it did.
  2. the Defra response to the Guardian piece is a non-response. It signifies no grasp of what’s occurring 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 defend wild hen populations from hen/poultry flu – however clear recommendation on how one offers with carcasses, and who’s going to try this work (landowners? native authorities? no-one?) is an efficient, and urgent place to begin. 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 can be vanishingly low, don’t you?  Why does that recommendation exist in any respect? Presumably on public well being grounds? Would possibly 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 right now?  What too is the recommendation to hen ringers about dealing with wild birds – see what the BTO says – nevertheless it’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 hen/poultry flu? Does it give it any thought? Perhaps they need to inform us.
  4. social media is usually a supply of solutions to questions. I requested whether or not it was doable to check wild birds for hen/poultry flu and bought a short reply thus, ‘Actually doable, take a look at Iceni Glycoscience’ however a fast look right here didn’t inform me a lot (most likely attributable to my ignorance).
  5. Since 1 Could (an arbitrary date associated to hen breeding seasons and our realisation that many extra wild birds had been being affected this 12 months) the one new UK circumstances of hen/poultry flu in captive birds seem (as a result of the data is unfold over 4 nationwide web sites and isn’t that easy 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 Could
  • Southwell, Notts, 19 Could
  • Lowdham, Notts, 7 Could

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 aren’t any restrictions, as I perceive it, on permitting poultry outside. Let’s see what occurs, however there’s a little bit of a mismatch between hen/poultry flu ripping by some wild hen populations and a reasonably low charge of latest circumstances in industrial premises. And though the 2 Scottish circumstances had been on Orkney and Shetland, seabird hotspots, the unfold of business circumstances doesn’t notably replicate 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 would/ought to/should be carried out now to assist wild birds.

  1. Arrange Activity Drive to develop Nationwide Response Plan for HPAI in Wild Birds in every of the 4 international locations of the UK, and construct cross-UK coordination and data sharing.
  2. Clear steerage on wild hen carcass removing and disposal in excessive threat areas.
  3. Develop efficient monitoring, surveillance, analysis and reporting methods 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; cut 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 giant numbers of non-native gamebirds when HPAI is current throughout the nation.






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