The South Coast & Sussex Bird/Gull Volunteer Network is struggling following the closure of most wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres.
In July, the RSPCA England and Wales announced that its rescue centers would no longer take in seabirds due to the risk of the disease spreading, but officers will continue to attend to reports of sick birds and wounded.
The bird flu outbreak that swept through East and West Sussex in early May left hundreds of adult birds dead or dying, with their healthy offspring abandoned and starving.
DEFRA states on its website: “During the current outbreak, more than 1,400 wild birds have tested positive for avian influenza in 347 different locations in 61 species.
Justin King, head of the volunteer group, said: “Our situation is now completely unmanageable. We are all physically and emotionally drained from trying to cope with the sheer volume of rescues. Most wildlife sites are closed and volunteers have been left to do the rescue work. »
Volunteer groups work to save baby gulls and young orphans.
July marks the start of young gull season with many young and inexperienced gulls falling from nests high on urban rooftops as they try to fly, leaving them injured or trapped, unable to find their parents.
Justin and his small team, known as The Chicklet Crew, are called in around the clock to help rescue and rehabilitate injured or malnourished birds.
While much of their time and labor goes to the aid of gulls, pigeons and other wild birds are also rescued and placed with appropriate caretakers for their recovery before being released back into the wild.
The South Coast & Sussex Bird/Gull Volunteer Network was started four years ago by Justin and now has over 3,000 members. This is a platform providing advice and information for anyone wishing to help abandoned or injured gulls and is an important resource for advice for bird carers.
Most of the birds Justin and his team help are herring gulls, which are a familiar sight to anyone who has been near shore.
Justin explains that the herring gull is in “great trouble” and is a protected bird under the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981 on the Red List of Threatened Species.
Justin said: “Our team is small as some have moved back due to their own health issues, while others have moved away which has made it even harder for those of us who are still going.
“It is now a 24 hour job and although we are all passionate about saving these birds, we need more help.
“We are now quarantining the baby birds ourselves and sending them to volunteer homes and gardens as they grow until the end of August.
“The situation is beyond madness. We now have young, recovering gulls in toilets, living rooms, garden sheds and volunteer garages. As you can imagine, this is not ideal but at least it ensures the safety and well-being of these special birds.
“Worse still, the level of violence and open hostility towards these protected birds has increased 100-fold. DEFRA’s message to the public at the start of the outbreak also did not help, stoking fear and panic in the public. By telling people to avoid birds that seem uncomfortable and not to touch them, it means the public is too scared to try to help any of them, some of whom may just be starving or dehydrated rather than sick.
“There is no reason why birds cannot be brought to us for assessment, provided the person wears a mask and gloves before handling the bird and placing them in a box, all of which can be subsequently eliminated.
“We know that bird flu is very contagious, but with a little common sense and the right precautions, all birds can then be controlled. Those who are sick, we take them to a veterinarian for euthanasia, rather than letting them die a slow, horrible death.
“We desperately need more help – drivers, bird adopters, volunteers. Once again we have to rely on donations from the public for food, essential rescue supplies, gasoline, soap powder, crates and bird enclosures. The water and electricity costs are huge because of all the washing we have to do too.
“Our last hope is that people will read this and contact us. Even a little help would be fantastic, give us some respite and a chance for more birds to recover and return to the wild.
The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) has said bird flu is primarily a disease of birds and the health risk to the general public is very low.
A Defra Group spokesperson said: “We recognize the significant threat Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) poses to the UK’s valuable wild bird populations, but there are unfortunately limited effective measures that can be taken. taken to protect them, as opposed to flocks of birds in captivity.
“Our current policy is in line with international standards of good practice for disease control. The Animal and Plant Health Agency runs a robust year-round monitoring program for dead wild birds and clear public guidelines have been issued not to handle their carcasses.
“Our new research consortium is also funding research into how avian influenza viruses emerge in wild populations and helping us understand the risk posed to domestic and wild birds.”
The Food Standards Agency said that based on current scientific evidence, bird flu poses a very low food safety risk to UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.
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