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Bird Flu – A Threat to Game Shooting?

As if the shooting world needed another problem, then along comes avian flu!

As if the shooting world needed another problem at the current time, given that we are currently in lockdown in England, with no driven game shooting allowed. Then along comes avian flu!

As from 11th November 2020, an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone has been declared across the whole of England.  Similar declarations have been made in Scotland and Wales. The decision to implement these zones, follows a risk assessment carried out. This means that all poultry keepers, whether these are commercial flocks or just a few birds in the back yard, are now required to take a range of bio-security precautions. Poultry includes game birds, provided they are in captivity, but this excludes game birds that are out in the wild.

There have been several cases of bird flu in poultry flocks including in Herefordshire and Cheshire, and three cases in wild birds in Gloucestershire, Devon and Dorset. The end result is that the overall risk level has been raised from medium to high.

If you keep poultry including game birds and you see any sign of disease in your flock, then you should report it to the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.

A good starting point for all keepers and shoot managers is the advice published on the Game Farmers’ Association’s website  If your shoot is within a disease-controlled zone (essentially in or around the sites of where infection has been found), then you must make sure that you check the restrictions which are applicable to that zone. Again, it is important to note that once pheasants and partridges are released, they are deemed to be wild birds and the Game Keeper is no longer classed as the “keeper” of the birds, but these immediate zones will prevent game shooting taking place, when lockdown ends.

There are two types of avian flu. The most serious type is the Highly pathogenic influenza (HPAI).  It is often fatal in birds. Its main clinical signs are:

  • • Swollen head
  • • Blue discoloration of neck and throat
  • • Respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • • Diarrhoea

The second type is low pathogenic avian Influenza (LPAI) which is usually less serious.  It often causes mild breathing problems, but birds will not always show clear signs of infection. Generally, LPAI only proves fatal if the bird is suffering from another illness.

If you find any dead wild birds, particularly swans, geese or ducks, gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra Helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

It is quite likely that there will be further cases found of both types of avian flu, and all Gamekeepers should be aware of what to look for and then what to do, if they come across a problem. With Game Shooting due to restart in England on 3rd December, it is really important that nothing else threatens shoot days for the remainder of the season – it has after all, not been an easy one!


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