Birdwatch Ireland highlights insufficient action to address major wildlife crisis

Washed-up birds on Irish coasts worry the population / Photo: Laura Hannot

By Laura Hannot

An expert on Irish wildlife has called on the Government to improve its online reporting system to help document the increasing level of avian flu. The virus strand H5N1 of bird flu hit bird colonies, and many birds are found dead on beaches or falling from the sky off the Irish coast. Birdwatchers criticize the inaction of the Government who asks people to report any dead bird by identifying the species and any visible symptoms. 

Niall Hatch, co-editor of Wings magazine and member of Birdwatch Ireland, says he is worried about the consequences of bird flu. “Is it safe to have dogs on beaches when they might go over to bird carcasses?”

The Government has been asking people to report any dead bird found on beaches. However, “nobody knows what they do with that data and the website is very complicated, so many people give up”.

Indeed, the government opened a website where members of the public can report washed-up dead birds. They need to identify the species and any symptoms the bird has. It is complicated for people with no interest in birds. The symptoms of H5N1 are also sometimes hard to notice and the birds need to be tested to see the cause of death.

Washed-up birds on beaches are not collected anymore by the Government. The Department of Agriculture is worried about domestic poultry and the risk of contamination. “But they don’t have any concern at all for wild bird populations or human health,” says Niall Hatch. The government stopped testing washed-up dead birds when they found 60 positive H5N1 cases on 80 wild birds.

Birdwatch Ireland has received 300 reports of dead birds on beaches in one week says Niall Hatch. Dead birds are left on beaches and the disease can easily spread through the scavenging of dead birds. Birdwatch Ireland has no right to remove them from the beaches they are also receiving calls from worried people seeing the impact of bird flu. The only thing possible to do for Birdwatch Ireland is to ask people not to touch the birds.

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