Bird flu outbreak ‘largest ever in these islands’, MLAs told

Bird flu outbreak ‘largest ever in these islands’, MLAs told

The current bird flu outbreak is “the largest ever in these islands”,  Daera officials have told Stormont’s Agriculture and Environment Committee..

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 has been officially confirmed as the strain detected at flocks in County Tyrone and County Antrim., with culls of both flocks carried out.

Earlier this week a North Belfast park was also closed due to bird flu.

The gates to the Waterworks Park were padlocked after 16 dead birds were removed in the latest wave of of an avian flu outbreak which Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots warned could cost tens of millions of pounds in compensation.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs  officials told the Stormont  committee that two swans were collected from the same park last month to confirm the presence of the virus, as part of ongoing surveillance.

An independent expert has now been brought in to help manage the situation at Waterworks Park, said Belfast City Council, which is also working with the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Public Health Agency (PHA).

A spokesman said: “We are also arranging for an on-call vet to be available to assess sick and dying birds and, if required, humanely euthanise these birds.

The spokesman added that the main species affected at the Waterworks were swans.

Animal rescue volunteer Sean Cummins told the BBC he had seen “numerous swans spinning around sick”.

“Once they get sick they start hitting their head off walls, because basically their brains swell.

“The public are walking by past watching this thinking they’re drowning, so they’re grabbing the birds out of the water, risking themselves possibly contracting that virus.”

Earlier in the week Minister Poots warned Avian flu poses a “present” threat in Northern Ireland and will be “more significant” in the months ahead.

That warning came following the identification of several suspected cases in commercial, privately-owned and wild birds t and his department will now monitor the impact of winter migration.

On December 5, the department  of agriculture confirmed that avian flu had been detected in six wild birds found in Belfast Waterworks, Harbour Estate and in Carryduff.

That followed the cull of 27,000 ducks after an outbreak at a commercial facility in Aughnaclo, County Tyrone, the value of which the minister put between £500k and £1m.

“We have a huge population of fowl in Northern Ireland, very successful in terms of our commercial production of poultry and indeed eggs,” Mr Poots sad.

“I don’t think it will run into hundreds of millions [the compensation bill] but certainly it has the potential to run into tens of millions.

“Whenever there is a crisis we have to find the money and that’s just the circumstance we find ourselves in.

“All of this we will do our best to avoid and we will take stringent bio-security measures.”