Hundreds of dead birds found at Scolt Head Island

These sandwich terns have made a mess of this inflatable

Several hundred dead Sandwich Terns were discovered by the warden of Scolt Head Island, near Brancaster - Credit: Archant

Bird flu has killed hundreds of birds on a Norfolk breeding ground.

Several hundred dead Sandwich Terns were discovered by a warden of Scolt Head Island, near Brancaster.

In one Twitter post, the warden said he collected hundreds of dead Sandwich Terns in bin bags. He said: “the stench of death is everywhere, dead and dying chicks litter the ground in uncountable numbers.”

The nature reserve off the north Norfolk coast is managed under lease by Natural England and is home to about 4,000 breeding pairs of Sandwich Terns.

A spokesperson for Natural England said: “We are aware of a number of wild bird deaths in the Scolt Head Island area.

"Sandwich Terns collected from the area have been found positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 through APHA's (Animal and Plant Health Agency) found dead wild bird surveillance scheme.”

Defra, APHA and Natural England are working with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and other groups including the RSPB and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to monitor the effect of avian influenza on wild birds species of conservation concern.

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Tom Stewart from the BTO said “many hundred” birds have died at Scolt Head.

But Mr Stewart said he was unable to confirm the exact number as avian influenza has only been proven in some cases due to limited testing on the birds.

Bird flu is spread via bird bodily fluids, like faeces and saliva.

Sea birds such as the Terns at Scolt Head are at particular risk because they tend to gather in their thousands in close proximity.

Mr Stewart added.: “It is horrendous and very distressing to see it unfold in the way it has done."

Scolt Head Island from the air, 1999. Picture: Mike Page

Scolt Head Island, near Brancaster - Credit: Mike Page

Mr Stewart said people should avoid touching dead birds and keep dogs under control to help limit the spread of disease and keep humans and other animals safe.

The government confirmed the outbreak and said it was monitoring the effect of bird flu on wild species.

Anyone who finds three or more dead wild waterfowl - swans, geese or ducks - gulls or birds of prey, or five or more dead birds of any species, should report them to  Defra helpline by calling 03459 335577.

For the latest on avian influenza visit www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu