Bird flu death toll passes more than 3,000 on Farne Islands

Despite having been closed to visitors, the Farne Islands are enduring a major outbreak of avian flu with thousands of seabirds dying on their shores

Puffin captured at Farne Islands with fish in its beak, standing on a cliff next to two other puffins
Published: July 26th, 2022 at 2:04 pm

Thousands of seabirds have died in an outbreak of bird flu on the Farne Islands, an area that had already been closed to the public earlier this month to try and prevent the spread of disease. At the time of closing the islands, there had been no confirmed cases of avian flu, but the virus had affected wild birds nearby.


The National Trust has discovered more than 3,000 dead birds during their patrols of the island, but estimate than ten times more may have already fallen into the sea.

The islands, located off the coast of Northumberland, are home to about 200,000 birds, providing habitat for 23 species including puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags and various species of tern.

One of the casualties include an Arctic tern, which had flown from the Farne Islands to Antarctica eight times during its lifetime. This is known because some of the dead birds found had been previously ringed by the British Trust of Ornithology to log their travel.

The latest wave of avian flu descends from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza that originally arrived in the UK in 2005/06 and is considered to be the worst ever outbreak of bird flu in the UK. This latest version emerged in the summer of 2021 in Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda and the Flannan Isles.

'The National Trust has cared for the Farne Islands for just under 100 years,' says Simon Lee, general manager of the Farne Islands. 'There are no records of anything so potentially damaging to our already endangered seabird colonies.'

Rangers who live and work on the island have been wearing PPE to collect the carcasses to avoid further contamination to the healthy bird population.

'The scale of this disaster calls for an urgent national response plan for the virus in wild birds,' says Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation at the National Trust. 'We need a more coordinated approach to ensure effective monitoring, surveillance and reporting to support research into the impacts this deadly disease is having on our wild birds across the UK.'


Top image: Puffins at Farne Island/Credit: Getty Images


Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.


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