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BirdWatch Ireland welcomes rejection of proposal to infill part of Dublin Bay, 9th June 2010

BirdWatch Ireland welcomes today’s decision by An Bord Pleanála to refuse the Dublin Port Company permission to expand the port by infilling 52-acres of wildlife habitat in Dublin Bay.

The board refused the application saying the area is due to be designated as a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive and that if the proposed development went ahead it might adversely impact on the birds of Dublin Bay and breach EU law.

Commenting on the refusal, Siobhán Egan, BirdWatch Ireland’s Policy Officer, said, “An Bord Pleanála’s acknowledgement that this proposed infill would affect the integrity of the site as a Special Protection Area is particularly welcome. BirdWatch Ireland was involved in highlighting the role that even a small part of the larger bay might play for the different bird species for which the area is a vital refuge. The key point here is that the applicant needed to show without reasonable doubt that the loss of this area would not affect the bird interests of the site, as well as the ability of the site to support birds well into the future.

“Dublin Bay is home to both nationally and internationally important bird species. The birds rely on different parts of the bay for a range of needs such as feeding and roosting, depending on the state of the weather and the tides. European law says that developments can only go ahead where it can be shown there will be no impact on species for which sites are designated: unless this is certain the sites cannot be compromised.”

Alan Lauder, BirdWatch Ireland’s Head of Conservation, added, “It is real progress to see this kind of decision being made by a planning authority and the need for site integrity being recognised. Previously Ireland has failed to give enough regard to the enactment and enforcement of EU conservation laws and has already been reprimanded by the European Court of Justice. This sends a strong message that An Bord Pleanála and the Irish State are now facing up to their obligations under EU directives and see our rich and irreplaceable natural heritage as being core to sustainable development.”


BirdWatch Ireland’s “2020 Vision” strategic plan launched at Sligo Conference, 28th March 2010

Ireland’s largest conservation charity, BirdWatch Ireland, held its 43rd annual All Ireland Conference on Bird Conservation in the Sligo Park Hotel, Sligo town this past weekend. Run in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Northern Ireland (RSPB NI), the theme this year was “Seabirds: Life on the Edge”, and the event focused on the threats posed to Ireland’s internationally important seabird colonies and feeding areas and the need to ensure their protection. Over 250 delegates attended, ranging from professional ornithologists to fledgling birdwatchers, and the event was supported by the Heritage Council and Sligo County Council.

The conference featured the launch of 2020 Vision, BirdWatch Ireland’s strategic plan outlining its main priorities for the next 10 years and addressing the need to reverse declines in biodiversity across Ireland. Speaking at the document’s launch, John Cromie, Chairman of BirdWatch Ireland, said, “For far too long our natural heritage in Ireland has been exploited, mismanaged or just plain ignored. We put great store in our cultural heritage and our history, our music and literature, but we fail to cherish the natural world around us which forms the backdrop to our lives. Our new strategy addresses this head-on, with practical plans and other objectives set in the context of a clear long-term vision for nature in Ireland.”

Alan Lauder, BirdWatch Ireland’s Head of Conservation, further outlined the organisation’s clear goals for the future: “BirdWatch Ireland will continue to focus on bird conservation and will use all tools available to further conservation efforts, especially habitat and species management and restoration, re-introduction, reserves, casework, advisory, advocacy and media work, campaigns and appeals.

“By 2020, further loss of biodiversity will largely be halted and by 2050 populations of birds will be either restored to all suitable areas or well on the way to recovering former numbers and range. Many birds not breeding regularly since before 1950 will have recolonised or been successfully reintroduced. Some species affected by climate change may have gone but some will persist through management that will restore habitats to the best possible condition.”

The complete 2020 Vision document is available for download (3MB) at www.birdwatchireland.ie/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Yt7mGrlsZBQ%3d&tabid=85.

The conference also saw the launch of a new logo for BirdWatch Ireland, created for the organisation by leading Irish designer David Suttle and world-renowned artist Killian Mullarney, together with a new mission statement: protecting birds and biodiversity.

Commenting on the new logo after the launch, BirdWatch Ireland’s Chief Operating Officer, Oran O’Sullivan, said, “Our new logo reflects our approach to the future both of BirdWatch Ireland as an environmental protection organisation and of wildlife conservation in Ireland. The bird featured in the logo, the Greenland White-fronted Goose, also known as the Irish Goose, is one of the birds which Ireland has the greatest international responsibility to conserve. As a long-distance migrant, it represents both the wonder of nature and the need for conservationists to recognise that wild birds do not respect borders: a triple-pronged approach to conservation at the local, national and international levels is the only way forward.”

English and Irish language versions of the new BirdWatch Ireland logo are available for download at www.birdwatchireland.ie/News/BirdWatchIrelandunveilsnewlogo/tabid/988/Default.aspx.


BWI Press release, 14th December 2007, on European Court of Justice ruling against Ireland

BirdWatch Ireland, which is Ireland's largest conservation charity and the BirdLife International Partner for the Republic of Ireland, warmly welcomes yesterday's ruling by the European Court of Justice that the Irish Government has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law in relation to the designation and classification of Special Protections Areas (SPAs) for wild birds. [Case C-418/04: Commission v. Ireland] The Court also found that the Irish Government had failed adequately to protect some of our most threatened bird species, including the Kingfisher, the Chough and the Corncrake.

Upholding five complaints made against the Irish State by the European Commission, the Court ruled that Ireland had failed properly to classify and/or protect several Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by BirdWatch Ireland, and had neglected its duty both fully to protect threatened birds and habitats and correctly to implement provisions of the EU Birds Directive.

Dr. Stephen Newton, Senior Conservation Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, said, "One of the main issues against the Irish State was its failure to 'translate' IBAs identified in 2000, including important breeding sites for species such as Sandwich Tern and Corncrake that had been identified by much earlier surveys, into SPAs. These sites then deteriorated for a variety of reasons by the mid 1990s, to such an extent that the local extinction of the species concerned occurred. Two examples brought up in the ECJ proceedings were Cross Lough in Co. Mayo, a tern colony vacated by the birds once introduced American Mink colonised the area, and the Moy Valley, also in Co. Mayo, where 'the loss of corncrake was the result of changes in agricultural practices which Ireland took no steps to remedy'."

Dr. Newton continued, "On the east coast, in Dublin Bay, an internationally important wintering site for migratory waders including Oystercatcher and Redshank, small parts of the mudflats were excluded from the Sandymount Strand and Tolka Estuary SPA, perhaps since they had been earmarked for development. We concur with the ECJ's ruling that such areas are 'an integral part of the entire wetland ecosystem and for that reason ought also to have been classified as an SPA'.

"Furthermore, we welcome the Court's recognition that land management outside designated areas is also important in the protection of bird species considered as having unfavourable conservation status. Here we are talking about the declines of formerly common farmland species such as the Skylark, which has been lost from most tillage and lowland grasslands in Ireland because of intensive silage production and the switch to the use of winter cereals."

Siobhán Egan, Policy Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, said, "This judgement is a clear signal to the Irish Government that it needs urgently to make up for lost time and put in place the necessary protection measures for threatened bird species and habitats, both to prevent further infringements of EU law and the continued destruction of our natural environment.

"Birds are crucial indicators of the health of our environment and represent an important asset to tourism and to Ireland's natural heritage. The Irish Government needs to invest in protecting them. Without doing so, the unsustainable use of natural resources and loss of biodiversity will continue unabated."

Oran O'Sullivan, CEO of BirdWatch Ireland, said, "This case highlights the need for urgent action to protect our wild birds and the habitats on which they depend. We look forward to sitting down with the Irish Government early in the New Year to discuss how the situation can be rectified."


The Atlas Challenge - Answer the Call

The Bird Atlas 2007-2011 is a joint project to map all of Ireland and Britain's birds during both the winter and the breeding season. It is a working partnership between BirdWatch Ireland, the British Trust for Ornithology and the Scottish Ornithologists' Club. It will allow us to assess changes in bird distributions since previous breeding atlases in 1970 and 1990, and since the last winter atlas of the early 1980s. Atlases have been immensely important for furthering bird knowledge and conservation and Bird Atlas 2007-2011 is destined to set the agenda for the next decades of ornithological work in Ireland and Britain.

Fieldwork will span four winters and four breeding seasons, starting on 1 November 2007, during which we will cumulatively survey the whole of Ireland. To fulfil these objectives there are two complementary fieldwork methods which offer something for everyone - Roving Records and Timed Tetrad Visits.

To make the Bird Atlas a huge success and to achieve the necessary coverage in your county we need your help. So why not be one of 50,000 birdwatchers across Ireland and Britain helping to produce the biggest and best Bird Atlas ever. For further information or to get involved please contact Brian Caffrey at the BirdWatch Ireland Midlands Office or follow the link to find out more: http://www.birdatlas.net

Brian Caffrey
BWI Midlands Office
Crank House
Banagher
Co. Offaly
(05791) 51676
bcaffrey@birdwatchireland.ie


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ON AVIAN INFLUENZA

BirdLife International: http://www.birdlife.org/action/science/species/avian_flu/index.html

13th January Update

1. What is High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza H5N1?
2. Why is there so much concern about this virus?
3. How are wild birds linked to Avian Influenza?
3.1 Can wild birds catch H5N1?
3.2 Are migrating wild birds spreading High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza H5N1?
3.3 Can 'healthy' wild birds carry the HPAI H5N1 virus?
3.4 Is H5N1 a conservation threat?
3.5 What further research is needed?
3.6 Should wild birds be culled to stop the disease spreading?
3.7 Should wetlands be drained to deter waterbirds?
4. Can I still go birdwatching? Should I stop feeding wild birds in my garden?
5. How is the virus spread, if not by wild birds?
6. What should be done to prevent the spread of HPAI H5N1?

1. WHAT IS HIGH PATHOGENICITY AVIAN INFLUENZA H5N1?

There are numerous different strains of avian influenza, but only a very few of these are a serious health concern for animals or people. Most strains circulate in wild birds, especially waterbirds, at low levels, and at worst cause only mild disease. These 'Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza' (LPAI) viruses also have only mild effects on poultry.

In contrast, some variants of the H5 and H7 'subtypes' can cause massive mortality in poultry. These are designated 'High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza' (HPAI). HPAI viruses do not normally occur in wild birds. They arise in poultry, where intensive rearing and crowded conditions allow the virus to evolve to a highly pathogenic form. Hence HPAI is also called 'poultry flu'.

Wild birds can also be infected with, and killed by, HPAI viruses. They appear to acquire the virus through contact with infected poultry or with facilities used by them.
The H5N1 virus currently circulating is a High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI). This strain of the virus first appeared in Hong Kong in 1997. It evolved in poultry from Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI) viruses that were probably acquired from wild birds.

Conditions in poultry flocks (such as crowding, especially in mixed species groups, and prolonged contact with faeces, saliva and other bodily secretions) keep the viruses circulating as they evolve. The current series of outbreaks began in 2003 in South-east Asia, where a dramatic increase in intensive poultry production is sometimes combined with poor hygiene and bio-security in small "backyard" enterprises.

2. WHY IS THERE SO MUCH CONCERN ABOUT THIS VIRUS?

The scale of the current outbreak of high pathogenicity avian influenza in poultry is unprecedented. H5N1 is causing huge economic damage. The virus can spread very quickly among domestic poultry, such as chickens, ducks and turkeys, and kills nearly all birds. Many more birds have to be killed to try and stamp out infections. This, with the necessary restrictions on movement and trade of birds, causes serious losses to farmers, businesses and national economies.

At present, H5N1 is not easily transmitted to humans. Many people have been exposed to infected birds in the present outbreak, but just 147 people (as of 10 January) have caught the disease. Nevertheless, more than half of them (78) have died. If contracted, it is a serious illness.

H5N1 is also not easily transmitted from human to human. However, this may change since the virus is constantly evolving. A form of H5N1 that is transmitted easily between people would cause a global influenza pandemic, in which many millions of people might die. Such a virus could arise through 'reassortment' (when human and avian influenza viruses exchange genetic material, during co-infection of a human or a pig) or through a more gradual process of adaptive mutation. Continued outbreaks of H5N1 increase the chances of this happening.

3. HOW ARE WILD BIRDS LINKED TO AVIAN INFLUENZA?

3.1 Can wild birds catch H5N1?

Yes. The current strain has caused deaths in a number of wild bird species, mostly waterbirds. Most of these flock or nest in colonies on waterbodies or nearby farmland. Others are birds that often feed and scavenge in polluted waterways near towns and farms. Yet others are scavenging species that are likely to forage around poultry farms, such as crows and magpies.

3.2 Are migrating wild birds spreading High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza H5N1?

Possibly - but this is unproven and (evidence suggests) unlikely. If wild birds have any role, it is minor compared to other mechanisms.

While a few outbreaks are consistent with the direction and timing of wild bird migration, most are not. The 2005 autumn migration came and went without migrating waterbirds spreading H5N1. The virus has not so far been reported from the birds' wintering areas in India, the Philippines, the Pacific and Africa.
The detailed pattern of outbreaks is also inconsistent with what would be expected from the movements of wild birds. All the evidence suggests that H5N1 is highly lethal to migratory wild bird species, and kills them quickly; that infected migrants cannot move long distances; and that the virus is most likely to be contracted locally, close to the site of deaths.

In short, wild birds could possibly have been involved in some H5N1 outbreaks (more likely in none) but other factors appear to be much more important - and should be the first focus of control efforts.

3.3 Can 'healthy' wild birds carry the HPAI H5N1 virus?

Well over 100,000 healthy wild birds have been tested across South-east Asia in the last two years. Out of 16,000 living wild birds (mainly migratory) tested at the Mai Po Nature Reserve in Hong Kong between 1997 and 2004, none tested positive for HPAI H5N1. Of 850 samples (mainly faecal) from living wild birds tested at Lake Erhel, Mongolia in August 2005 (after an H5N1 outbreak), none was positive. In Eurasia, just 13 apparently healthy wild migrant birds have "tested positive" for HPAI H5N1-but doubts have been raised as to whether any of these birds was healthy, or indeed actually carrying HPAI H5N1.

In currently uninfected areas, many thousands of migratory waterbirds have recently been tested in Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Alaska and Europe. All were found to be negative for HPAI H5N1.

On the other hand, Mallard ducks inoculated in the laboratory with certain high-pathogenicity H5N1 variants showed few clinical symptoms of infection. Tree Sparrows from Henan in China have also been found with a new variant of H5N1 that did not seem to make them ill (but proved lethal to chickens). So, while wild birds do not appear to carry and spread the HPAI H5N1 virus at present, it is possible that they could do so in future.

3.4 Is H5N1 a conservation threat?

Up to 10 % of the world population of Bar-headed Geese died at Lake Qinghai in China. Globally Threatened Birds could be at risk when they have small populations concentrated in areas where the virus has become established, especially when poultry use the same water and food supplies. In South-east Asia and South-east Europe there are a number of Globally Threatened waterbirds whose populations have already been reduced by habitat loss and over-hunting, and which could be at threat from H5N1.

3.5 What further research is needed?

There are many significant gaps in our knowledge about H5N1 in wild birds. We need better information on how wild birds contract the infection, how long the incubation period is, when and for how long they shed the virus (and in what quantity), how ill it makes them (and how this varies among individuals, and affects their ability to migrate), and which species are affected.

We also need better systems of monitoring and surveillance for migrants - both for conservation purposes and to help predict and control the spread of H5N1 should migrant birds be found to carry it in the future.

3.6 Should wild birds be culled to stop the disease spreading?

This would be a highly misguided response. The World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation and OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health) agree that control of avian influenza in wild birds by culling is not feasible, and should not be attempted. Juan Lubroth, FAO senior officer responsible for infectious animal diseases, has commented: "[Culling] is unlikely to make any significant contribution to the protection of humans against avian influenza. There are other, much more important measures to be considered that deserve priority attention."

In the event that wild birds were found to be carrying HPAI H5N1, any attempts at culling would spread the virus more widely, as survivors dispersed to new places, and healthy birds became stressed and more prone to infection.

3.7 Should wetlands be drained to deter waterbirds?

Absolutely not. Apart from their extremely high conservation value, wetlands provide vital ecosystem services like flood control, water purification and nutrient recycling, and the livelihoods of many communities depend on them.

Draining wetlands is not only environmentally disastrous, but also likely to be counterproductive - for the same reasons that culling would be more likely to spread the Avian Influenza virus than control it. Birds would seek alternative staging places on their migration routes, and wildfowl forced to fly further and endure more crowded conditions along their migration route would become stressed and exhausted, and more prone to infection.

2. CAN I STILL GO BIRDWATCHING? SHOULD I STOP FEEDING WILD BIRDS IN MY GARDEN?

Wild birds are very important in the lives of many people. Fortunately, there is no reason to be afraid of them! Birdwatching remains safe, though you should avoid touching sick or dead birds, their droppings or water near them. Similarly, it is safe to continue feeding garden birds. The birds that visit feeders and bird tables are most unlikely to carry the H5N1 virus. Observe normal, sensible hygiene precautions: wash hands after handling equipment that has been splashed with bird faeces, and clean and disinfect feeders and bird-tables regularly.

So far there is only one, unconfirmed, report (from Turkey) of a person contracting the virus from a wild bird. All other cases have been linked to intimate exposure to infected poultry.

3. HOW IS THE VIRUS SPREAD, IF NOT BY WILD BIRDS?

There are at least three likely transmission routes:

Movements of untreated poultry and poultry products, and the global trade in poultry

The trade in wild birds

Use of infected poultry manure as fertiliser in agriculture and agriculture, and as feed in fish-farms and pig farms

Most outbreaks in south-east Asia can be linked to movements of poultry and poultry products (or infected material from poultry farms, such as mud on vehicles, or peoples' shoes). Live animal or 'wet' markets have played a major part in spreading the virus in south-east Asia: they were identified as the source of the H5N1 infection in chicken farms in Hong Kong in 1997 when approximately 20% of the chickens in live poultry markets were found to be infected.

There is also a huge international trade in poultry-legal, unregulated or illegal. Recently it was revealed that poultry meat is being illegally imported from Asia into the USA; in October 2005 3,000 chickens were intercepted by Italian customs after being smuggled into the country from China; and in November 2005 the UK authorities revealed that large quantities, possibly hundreds of tonnes, of chicken meat had been illegally imported from China.

The widespread illegal trade in cage birds has been demonstrated to have transported flu-infected birds over large distances. Customs in Taiwan recently intercepted two consignments of infected birds smuggled from mainland China. An outbreak of H5N1 at a bird quarantine station in the UK may also be attributable to smuggled birds 'laundered' into a legally imported consignment. The most likely source of infection in captive birds is at live animal 'wet' markets, where domestic and wild-caught birds are kept in close proximity, posing a high-risk of bird flu cross-contamination.

The use of untreated chicken, duck and other poultry manure as fertiliser and feed for pigs, fish and other livestock is widespread in Asia and Eastern Europe. Birds infected with the H5N1 virus excrete virus particles in their faeces: putting untreated faeces from infected birds into fish ponds provides a new source of infection. The manure may be transported for long distances before being used or sold, a dangerously effective way of spreading the virus. The United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organisation recommends that "the feeding of poultry manure/poultry litter should be banned in countries affected by or at risk from avian influenza, even if correctly composted, ensiled or dried with heat treatment."

4. WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO PREVENT THE SPREAD OF HPAI H5N1?

The current focus on migrating wild birds is misplaced and a potentially dangerous diversion of energy, effort and resources. Attempts to cull wild birds are even more misguided-the target is wrong and the approach is completely ineffective.

Rather, preventive measures need to concentrate on better bio-security-surveillance and testing of poultry, controlling the movements and sale of poultry, poultry products and cage birds, ensuring that all poultry manure used in aquaculture and agriculture is properly treated prior to application, and stepping up national and international efforts to control the illegal trade in poultry, poultry products and wild birds.

Some countries are now vaccinating their poultry flocks. Research has shown that vaccines can reduce the infectiousness of chickens with avian flu and the susceptibility of healthy birds to the virus. However, there are no international standards for the minimum amount of antigen contained in poultry vaccines. Birds immunised with poor quality vaccines look healthy, but spread the virus at high concentrations in their faeces for longer, and the virus keeps replicating, spreading and evolving. Bad vaccines may be contributing to antigenic drift, allowing the virus to evolve into new forms.


BirdLife International: Statement on Avian Influenza (AKA "Bird 'flu") 14th October 2005

The H5N1 virus seems to be spreading, with recent outbreaks in China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, regions of Russia and countries around the Black Sea, on top of the spread through Asia since the end of 2003. It is not yet entirely clear how the disease is spreading, but clearly there is a possibility that migrating waterbirds may be involved.

There are numerous strains (at least 144) of avian influenza, many of which circulate in wild birds at low levels, but which can occur more frequently in waterbirds. Most of these viruses within wild bird populations are benign.

Highly pathogenic-avian influenza viruses can cause great mortality in domestic poultry flocks but are very rare in wild birds. H5N1 is highly pathogenic but was never recorded in wild birds before the recent outbreaks in SE Asia, Russia and countries around the Black Sea. It is likely that it originated in domestic poultry through mutation of low pathogenic sub-types and was subsequently passed from poultry to wild birds.

Transmission is promoted in domestic flocks due to the density of birds and the consequent close contact with faecal and other secretions through which the virus can be transmitted. Husbandry methods in SE Asia where domestic flocks are often allowed to mix freely with wild birds, especially waterfowl will have facilitated the transmission to migratory waterbirds, leading to several reported instances of die-offs.

There is no evidence that H5N1 infection in humans have been acquired from wild birds. Human infections have occurred in people who have been closely associated with poultry. The risk to human health from wild birds is extremely low and can be minimised by avoiding contact with sick or dead birds. However, there is a possibility that this virus could develop into one that might be transmitted from human to human. If this happens, then it is most likely to happen in SE Asia, from where it could then spread rapidly around the world.

The situation is evolving rapidly from day to day, and our position on the disease and proposed control measures will continue to evolve as new data emerge. The points below are based on the best information available on 14 October 2005:

1. The most recent outbreaks suggest that migratory birds may have transmitted the disease between countries or regions. Although this link has not been proven we cannot ignore the possibility. Movements of domestic poultry, another possible transmission route, have been largely implicated in the spread of the disease in SE Asia.

2. There have been no recorded instances of transmission of the disease between infected wild birds and humans. The H5N1 virus strain is not currently contagious between humans and most human cases to date have been associated with close contact with infected domestic poultry. The risk of a human contracting the disease from a wild bird is remote, unless there was excessive close contact with infected birds and their excreta.

3. Culls of wild birds are highly unlikely to stop the spread of the disease and, are extremely difficult to implement. This view is shared by the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the UK Government. Indeed, culls have the potential to make the situation worse by dispersing infected individuals and stressing healthy birds, making them more prone to disease. Moreover, it would divert resources away from important disease control measures.

4. The most efficient control techniques involve improved biosecurity, primarily of the poultry industry, to reduce the likelihood of contact between domestic stock and wild birds or infected water sources. This needs to be coupled with swift and complete culls of infected poultry flocks in the event of an outbreak. Further measures that should be considered include stricter controls on wild bird markets, and movements of domestic poultry. Such measures should be introduced worldwide. Countries currently free of the disease should consider a ban on imports of domestic poultry and wild birds for the pet trade from affected regions. Preventing public access to infected sites is also clearly a sensible precaution.

5. It is important that discussions of the issues relating to avian influenza should differentiate between the real problems caused by the spread of the disease within bird populations, especially within the poultry industry, and the theoretical risks of a human pandemic, which might not happen.

6. We fully recognise the potential for a human pandemic should the current viral strain increase its transmissibility through mutation or reassortment, thus facilitating human to human transfer of the disease, and in the absence of swift measures to safeguard public health. We also recognise the impact the current strain is having on local economies forced into culls of domestic flocks, and the potential for greater financial impact on the poultry industry.

7. In addition to the impact of the disease on economics and livelihoods, and the potential impacts for human health, there are also potential implications for conservation. For instance, it is estimated that somewhere between 5% and 10% of the world population of the bar-headed goose Anser indicus perished in the recent outbreak in China.

A version of this statement has also been endorsed by the Birdwatch Ireland and other Birdlife Internation partners including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and British Trust for Ornithology in the UK.


BirdWatch Ireland Press Release concerning Avian Influenza- 25th August 2005

There are numerous strains (at least 135) of avian influenza, many of which circulate in wild birds at low levels, but which can occur more frequently in waterbirds. Most of these do not affect wild birds or only cause mild illness in birds. Strains are divided into two types, dependent on their pathogenicity (disease-causing ability) to domestic poultry. High pathogenicity avian influenza viruses (including H5N1) can cause great mortality in domestic poultry flocks but are very rare in wild birds. The current strain of concern, H5N1 is highly pathogenic but was never recorded in wild birds before the recent outbreaks in SE Asia and Russia. It is likely that this highly pathogenic strain originated in domestic poultry through recombination of low pathogenic sub-types and was subsequently passed from poultry to wild birds. Transmission is promoted in domestic flocks due to the density of birds and the consequent close contact with faecal and other secretions through which the virus can be transmitted. Husbandry methods in SE Asia where domestic flocks are often allowed to mix freely with wild birds, especially waterfowl, will have facilitated the transmission to migratory waterbirds.

The H5N1 virus seems to be spreading, with recent outbreaks in China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and several regions of Russia, on top of the spread through Asia since the end of 2003. It is not yet entirely clear how the disease is spreading, but clearly there is a possibility that migrating waterbirds are involved.

The situation is evolving rapidly from day to day, and our position on the disease and proposed control measures will continue to evolve as new data emerge. The points below are based on the best information available on 25 August 2005:

1. Despite the current outbreaks and recorded deaths of wild birds (predominantly waterfowl) from H5N1, there is, as yet, no definitive proof that migratory birds have transmitted the disease between countries or regions within countries. However, the possibility remains that migratory birds may have played a part in transmission of the virus, and we cannot ignore this possibility.

2. There have been no recorded instances of transmission of the disease between infected wild birds and humans. The H5N1 virus strain is not currently contagious between humans and most human cases to date have been associated with close contact with infected domestic poultry. The risk of a human contracting the disease from a wild bird is remote, unless there was excessive close contact with infected birds and their excreta.

3. It is not yet clear whether wild birds are spreading the disease, but even if they are, we believe that culls of wild birds are highly unlikely to stop the spread. This view is shared by the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and World Organisation for Animal Health. Indeed, culls have the potential to make the situation worse by dispersing infected individuals and stressing healthy birds, making them more prone to disease. Moreover, it would divert resources away from important disease control measures.

4. The most efficient control techniques involve improved biosecurity, primarily of the poultry industry, to reduce the likelihood of contact between domestic stock and wild birds or infected water sources. This needs to be coupled with swift and complete culls of infected poultry flocks in the event of an outbreak. Further measures that should be considered include stricter controls on wild bird markets, and movements of domestic poultry. Such measures should be introduced worldwide. Countries currently free of the disease should consider a ban on imports of domestic poultry and wild birds for the pet trade from affected regions. Preventing public access to infected sites is also clearly a sensible precaution.

5. We fully recognise the potential for a human pandemic should the current viral strain increase its transmissibility through mutation or reassortment, thus facilitating human to human transfer of the disease. We also recognise the impact the current strain is having on local economies forced into culls of domestic flocks.

6. In addition to the impact of the disease on economics and livelihoods, and the potential impacts for human health, there are potential implications for conservation. For instance, it is estimated that somewhere between 5% and 10% of the world population of the bar-headed goose Anser indicus perished in the recent outbreak in China.

7. Although there is a theoretical risk that migrating birds could bring H5N1 to Ireland (swans, ducks and waders from Siberia), at present, we consider that risk to be small, and even if this were to occur, the risk to humans would be negligible.

Notes:

a. The World Heath Organization (WHO), The Office International des Epizooties (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) all concur that "the control of avian influenza infection in wild bird populations is not feasible and should not be attempted."

http://www.who.int/csr/don/2005_08_18/en/index.html

b. Most birds breeding in affected areas in Siberia will be migrating to winter in the south and east of Europe and in Asia and will not visit our shores. It should also be noted that the Irish wintering populations of several species considered to pose a risk in other European countries, most notably Brent Goose and White-fronted Goose, do not have a Siberian origin but instead come to Ireland from Iceland, Greenland or North America and therefore would not seem to pose a problem in this country. The bulk of Ireland’s wintering population of Bewick’s Swan, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover do appear to have a Siberian origin (see Table 1 below for population levels), as does a small proportion of the total number of a few other species, namely Mallard, Teal, Pintail, Wigeon and Shoveler.

Table 1: All-Ireland Wintering Populations of selected Siberian Migrants. Period: 1999/2000 - 2003/04, source I-WeBS.

Bewick's Swan 380
Pochard 37,780*
Tufted Duck 36,610*
Bar-tailed Godwit 16,310
Grey Plover 6,280

* - mainly concentrated at two sites: Lough Neagh and Lough Corrib.

c. The risk of infected birds arriving in Ireland will depend on what proportion of the breeding population has come into contact with the infection, the transmission rate of the virus and the likelihood that an infected individual could undertake a long-distance migration. Currently these factors are difficult to quantify.

d. BirdWatch Ireland is the largest independent conservation organisation in Ireland. Our aim is the conservation of wild birds and their natural habitats. Established in 1968, we currently have over 10,000 members and supporters and a local network of over 20 branches nationwide.

For further information please contact:

Oran O’Sullivan, General Manager
or
Niall Hatch, Development Officer
BirdWatch Ireland, Rockingham House, Newcastle, Co. Wicklow
Tel: 01-2819878
Email: oosullivan@birdwatchireland.org & nhatch@birdwatchireland.org

Oran O'Sullivan
General Manager
BirdWatch Ireland
Rockingham House
Newcastle
Co. Wicklow
Ph + 1 2819878
Fax + 1 2819763

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