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Avain flu had decimated UK Skuas, Gannets and Roseate Terns warns RSPB

Tuesday, February 13th 2024 - 10:11 UTC
Full article
The H5N1 strain of avian flu spread to wild birds in summer 2021, causing thousands of creatures to die. The H5N1 strain of avian flu spread to wild birds in summer 2021, causing thousands of creatures to die.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, RSPB has reported that a powerful bird the Great Skuas also known as “the pirate of the seas” for stealing other birds food, has declined dramatically because of avian flu.

 Great Skuas soar around the UK's coasts but their numbers in 2023 were down by 76%, the charity says in a report. likewise populations of Gannets and Roseate Terns were also seriously reduced after avian flu killedd thousands of wild birds in 2021-22.

The numbers of the three species had been rising before the outbreak.

The H5N1 strain of avian flu spread to wild birds in summer 2021, causing thousands of creatures to die.

The findings make it clear that avian flu is “one of the biggest immediate conservation threats faced by multiple seabirds”, says the RSBP.

“This is a wake-up call as to how serious avian flu is and it's coming on top of multiple other threats that these species face,” says Jean Duggan, RSPB avian influenza policy assistant.

The RSPB surveyed 13 bird species in May-July 2023, and concluded that avian flu had caused the decline of Great Skuas, Gannets and Roseate Terns, and was very likely to have caused reductions of Sandwich and Common Terns.

Gannet populations are down by 25%, Roseate Terns by 21%, Sandwich Terns by 35% and Common Terns by 42% compared with a major census of bird populations in 2015-2021.

Almost the entire UK population of Great Skuas live in Scotland. In 2022, at least 2,591 Great Skuas died - 1,400 from one colony alone on Foula island, Shetland.

The total number in the UK has declined from 9,088 to 2,160.

Ms Duggan highlighted that Britain was pivotal in protecting the bird worldwide because so many breed in Britain.

“It's empowering to realize that if we take the right actions in the UK it will actually benefit global populations to a very significant degree,” she says.

Gannets were also badly affected in 2022, with 11,175 killed in Scotland and an estimated 5,000 mortalities at Grassholm in Wales.

In 2023 the total number counted in the UK had declined by 25%, going from 227,129 to 171,048.

Avian flu become less acute in the UK in recent months, but it has caused mass mortalities of birds in other parts of the world.

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