Julie James, Minister for Climate Change
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), more commonly known as ‘Bird Flu’, is currently causing significant mortalities in seabird colonies in Scotland and England. There have been concerning mass die offs of great skuas and gannets across Scottish colonies. This has spread down the east coast of the UK causing large mortalities in various tern colonies and other species.
Wales holds internationally and nationally important seabird colonies. The Pembrokeshire islands, for example, hold the largest colony of Manx shearwaters in the world on Skomer and Skokholm, the third largest gannet colony in the world on Grassholm, as well as large colonies of numerous seabirds such as auks and gulls. North Wales has internationally important colonies of many tern species. Welsh colonies are not currently affected with mass die offs, however, as we are experiencing the tail end of the current bird flu season, the risk of this disease occurring in Welsh seabird colonies remains.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) wild bird surveillance system has identified three cases of HPAI on Anglesey and in Ceredigion, with a further four cases confirmed as testing positive on Grassholm Island. Further observations of dead or dying birds have been reported on Grassholm, however estimated numbers remain relatively small and appear to be in isolated areas of the colony.
In response to the positive HPAI tests on Grassholm, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have suspended all seabird ringing and seabird nest recording in Wales, effective from 5th August until further notice. The suspension extends to ringing and nest recording of non-seabirds in seabird colonies. The likelihood that avian flu could cause similar mass mortalities in seabirds in Wales, as seen in Scotland and England, unfortunately, remains heightened. There is also the probability that it could cause mass mortalities in wildfowl and wader populations in our internationally important estuaries come autumn and winter.
Recognising the risks to Welsh seabird colonies, Welsh Government, NRW and Public Health Wales Officials are working closely with the other UK Governments, APHA, and critical stakeholders such as Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, British Trust for Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, to share knowledge and expertise in response to the threat that HPAI presents to our seabird populations. The migratory nature and potential range of our seabirds makes collaboration and effective monitoring critical to our ability to track and understand the spread of the virus.
Today, the 31st August, Welsh Government, in parallel with Defra, are publishing a ‘Mitigation Strategy for Avian Influenza in Wild Birds in England and Wales’. The Strategy sets out guidance on existing policies and approaches across England and Wales, and will support stakeholders understanding of these, through providing clear scenarios related to wild birds. This will enable conservation charities and land managers to take an effective and consistent response to avian influenza in wild birds.
As part of this coordinated effort, Welsh Government has also issued advice to the public in relation to any findings of dead seabirds (https://gov.wales/report-and-dispose-dead-birds).
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.