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Avian Flu: Wildlife Trust reissues plea not to feed birds at Attenborough Nature Reserve

Following news that the current worldwide Avian Influenza outbreak is the largest ever and shows no sign of ending, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has re-issued a plea to visitors to Attenborough Nature Reserve, its most popular site, not to feed the birds.

Back in January 2022, the Trust, which cares for over 40 nature reserves across the county, urged visitors not to feed the birds at Attenborough due to the ongoing risk of Avian Flu to wild bird populations. Last summer, despite efforts to prevent the spread, the charity had to deal with one of the worst inland outbreaks which killed around 500 birds.

Following news that the current outbreak has killed over 200 million birds, including millions here in the UK, and shows no signs of slowing, the Trust is once again urging visitors to the popular nature reserve, which sits alongside the River Trent south of Nottingham, to play their part in preventing the spread amongst wild birds. As birds arrive from the continent to breed again this year, it is likely that more outbreaks will be detected across the UK and the Trust, a registered charity is urging visitors to play their part in protecting birds at Attenborough.

Whilst the evidence suggests that the worldwide outbreak was caused by poor conditions in poultry farms in Asia, last summer’s outbreak at Attenborough Nature Reserve, now believed to be one of the largest affecting inland wild birds in the UK, was made worse because of the level of bird feeding on the reserve.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust Chief Executive Paul Wilkinson said: “Sadly, the Avian Flu outbreak shows no signs of letting up, with the risk of highly pathogenic avian flu in wild birds classed as very high. With spring bird migration underway, the chances of infected birds arriving at Attenborough will increase and we are therefore re-issuing our plea to visitors to help us keep the wild birds at Attenborough safe by no longer feeding them.

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Last summer, despite all our efforts, we had to deal with one of the largest inland outbreaks in wild birds in the UK.

Seeing so many birds succumb to the disease was distressing for everyone, not least our staff who had to deal with the sick and injured birds on a daily basis. With confirmation that bird flu remains a significant problem worldwide, we need the public’s help to prevent the virus from sweeping through the reserve again.”

Experts now believe that the popularity of bird feeding at the reserve contributed to the high number of birds affected. With so much food on offer, many birds, particularly the swans and geese, had not been moving between sites and mixing with other birds. As a result, they had built up little or no immunity to Avian Flu since the latest outbreak began in October 2021.

Paul explained:

“Feeding ducks, geese and swans at Attenborough has been a favourite experience for generations and has traditionally been a great way to get close to nature.

“However, now that we know bird feeding made the outbreak worse, we want to share the information so that people can help us help the wildlife they care passionately about.

“We knew that it was important to prevent birds from congregating to feed, we were not aware that past feeding had also put Attenborough’s birds at increased risk.

“Whilst this is a difficult message, we know that visitors won’t want to be making life difficult for our wild birds – so we’re highlighting that people can help by simply not feeding the birds.”

Anyone finding dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77).

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