On Tuesday 26 September we received reports of several dead gamebirds washed up on the southern part of the Bosham peninsular.
Our ecologist and rangers investigated; they found and removed at least 60 dead grey partridges from the shoreline. They had been in the water no longer than 24 hours. Grey partridges are gamebirds, bred in captivity and released for shooting, and whilst we do not know the cause of death they do not appear to have been shot.
It is possible that these birds died in captivity, possibly of Highly Pathonogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI – avian flu) before being dumped on the shores of Chichester Harbour.
Avian Flu has had a profound impact amongst farmed birds and has spread to wild bird populations with devastating consequences. Breeding seabird colonies across the UK have been ravaged by the disease, including tern populations here within Chichester Harbour.
Last year a third of the barnacle geese that spend their winter on Solway Firth in Scotland were killed by Avian Flu. So as our overwintering waders and wildfowl including brent geese return to the harbour, our concerns turn to the health of these nationally and internationally important bird populations.
It is known that HPAI originated in poultry, and by its highly contagious nature is very easily spread from bird to bird, and from carcasses into other bird and mammal species.
The dumping of dead gamebirds is not only illegal but could pose a risk to already threatened wild bird populations and potentially a health risk to humans. Avian flu is a notifiable disease. Suspected outbreaks in domestic or captive birds must be reported to DEFRA. We have reported the incident to DEFRA and to West Sussex County Council Trading Standards.
What can you do?
We understand just how much most people love and cherish the special environment here in Chichester Harbour. We very much hope that this is an isolated incident, but Avian Flu is sadly not. If you find a dead bird, follow the advice from DEFRA:
- Report any dead wild birds: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/report-dead-wild-birds
- Keep to the footpath, with dogs on leads.
- Do not pick up or touch dead or sick wild birds.
- Do not touch wild bird feathers or surfaces contaminated with wild bird droppings.
Finally, thank you to those members of the public ad the Itchenor Ferry skipper that reported the incident; if anyone has any information please report it.