Visitors to Dorset’s beaches and nature reserves are being urged not to touch ill and dead birds amid concerns of a possible bird flu outbreak.
The call comes as ‘dozens’ of birds have been spotted dead at a number of coastal locations – including Charmouth, Chesil Beach and West Bay.
Portland Bill Observatory has reported ‘several dozen’ dead and dying birds on Chesil Beach during the past fortnight.
Dorset Council said they haven’t removed the birds from Chesil Beach because they haven’t died on council land.
Peter Brown, an early morning swimmer at West Bay, found dead birds on three separate occasions at the beach last week.
Martin Cade, manager at Portland Bill Observatory, said he was ‘baffled’ by the seeming lack of urgency from authorities.
He said: “I’ve reported it to DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and one of the local councillors got the Environmental Health team on it but there didn’t seem to be a great deal of urgency.
“I’m not sure any of the birds in Dorset have been analysed to see if they have avian flu when they have been in other regions (Cornwall); you don’t just get gannets washing up dead in these circumstances and numbers for no reason.
“I’m a bit puzzled by the action, or lack of action, that’s been taken. Birdwatchers have told me that they’ve had to stop children from picking up these distressed birds on the beach – they were planning on wrapping it up and taking it to the RSPCA.
“National advice is not to touch the birds if they are suspected of having bird flu but there aren’t signs anywhere and, naturally, members of the public who aren’t bird enthusiasts are going to think they’re just injured or distressed and will want to help.”
“It’s obviously not particularly likely but whilst the birds remain on the ground there is a notional risk of transmission to humans.”
A spokesperson for Dorset Council said: “The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is the lead agency for tackling Avian Flu. The risk of people catching Avian Flu is very low. However, the APHA advise not touching or picking up any dead or visibly sick birds.
“If landowners have taken the decision to remove carcasses, it is the landowner’s responsibility to safely arrange disposal. Where dead birds are on Dorset Council land, we can remove and dispose of them safely.
“Anyone with kept birds such as poultry should be very careful to maintain good biosecurity to prevent their birds being infected.
“Also please note that Chesil Beach is not Dorset Council land, and the gannets and other dead sea birds found there or any other Dorset beaches have not been confirmed as having died from Avian Flu.”
DEFRA said they were unable to comment on ‘individual cases’ but issued the following advice: “If you find three or more dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or gulls or birds of prey, or five or more dead birds of any species, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 335577).
“We then collect some of these birds and test them to help us understand what risk posed to poultry and other captive birds is through understanding how the disease is distributed geographically and in different types of wild bird, not all birds will be collected.”