The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland is encouraging the public not to pick up or touch any dead or injured wild birds, amid concerns about bird flu.

The department has said that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 – bird flu – is currently circulating in wild birds, especially breeding seabirds around the UK’s coasts, causing significant mortality in some species.

To date, there has been only one confirmed HPAI seabird death in Northern Ireland. However, dead seabirds have been removed from Rathlin Island for testing, and others have been very recently reported on the north coast.

Advice to prevent potential spread

There remains the potential for this situation to deteriorate, and so the public using coastal areas over the coming weeks are reminded of the following advice:

  1. Do not pick up or touch sick, dying or dead birds, and keep pets away from them;
  2. Dead wild birds should be reported to the DAERA helpline 0300 200 7840, however not all will be collected for surveillance;
  3. An Avian Influenza Hub with further advice can be found on the DAERA website;
  4. Where dead wild birds are not required for surveillance purposes, it is the landowner’s responsibility to safely dispose of the carcasses.

Current advice from the Public Health Agency is not to touch or pick up dead birds.  However, if dead birds need to be disposed of:

  • If possible, wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling dead wild birds (if disposable gloves are not available, a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove);
  • Place the dead wild bird in a suitable plastic bag, preferably leak proof. Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag;
  • Tie the bag and place it in a second plastic bag;
  • Remove gloves by turning them inside out and then place them in the second plastic bag. Tie the bag and dispose of it in the normal household refuse bin.

DAERA has urged people to make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap after coming into contact with any animal and do not touch any sick or dead birds.

The department added that it is working with stakeholders and has taken proactive measures to improve biosecurity at seabird breeding colonies, and continues to monitor the situation.

Bird flu

In April of this year, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) announced the lifting of the legal requirement to confine and house poultry and other birds as a precautionary measure against avian influenza (bird flu)

The legislation requiring the precautionary confinement of birds was introduced on November 22, 2021, to mitigate the risk of bird flu in poultry.

Removing the requirement to confine birds meant that all poultry and bird owners could allow their birds access to open areas.