Bird flu in Norfolk worst outbreak yet

06:00 October 4, 2022

Norfolk is in the eye of the storm as the worst avian flu epidemic ever decimates wild birds and poultry.

Hundreds of thousands of chickens, geese and turkeys had to be slaughtered after outbreaks on farms across the country, where a control zone has been declared.

Now the RSPB says the virus is bringing “troubling scenes” to the countryside, with dead swans and other birds seen in numbers from the Broads to the beaches of North Norfolk.

Turkeys on a farm in Norfolk

Thousands of Norfolk turkeys had to be culled after bird flu outbreaks late last year
– Credit: Matthew Usher

Rare terns breeding on the coast have already been decimated. As winter migration gets underway to our shores, there are fears that congregating waterfowl and waders could accelerate the spread of the virus via internationally important rare species and iconic birds of prey.

Katie-Jo Luxton

Katie-Jo Luxton of the RSPB
– Credit: RSPB

Katie-Jo Luxton, RSPB’s Executive Director for Global Wildlife Conservation, said: “As wintering birds reach our shores in the coming months, we suspect winter will be a very rough one for our wild birds, with sadly the worst yet to come.

“With so much at stake and so much other pressure on our wild birds, the response to bird flu from Defra has been inadequate so far.

A pair of terns feed a chick on the nest - the birds have nested for the first time in Minsmere

A pair of sandwich terns feed a chick on the nest – the birds are breeding in Minsmere for the first time since 1978. Photo: CHRIS GOMERSALL
– Credit: Chris Gomersall (

“We urge the Government to respond to this crisis with the real urgency needed as situations like this are not only troubling but remain worrisome as the worst outbreak in the UK unfolds across the country. ”

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust said: “We are seeing an increasing number of deceased wild birds that we believe may have been affected by avian flu in our nature reserves in the Norfolk Broads and on the north coast of Norfolk. Affected species include swans, sandwich terns, Jan boobies and herring gull.

“This is of great concern to us. Wildlife across the board is struggling and this is yet another pressure our birds face, so it is critical that we do everything we can to minimize the spread of the disease by following the advice of Defra to follow.”

Scot Head Island from the air, 1999. Photo: Mike Page

Scot Head Island, where it’s easy to get cut off by the tide
– Credit: Mike Page

Natural England has already said the level of wild bird mortality is “unprecedented”.

Summer Sanctuary Neil Lawton found more than 800 dead sandwich terns in the Scolt Head Island Nature Reserve during the breeding season.

Up to 85 percent of the fledgling chicks in the reserve died, along with up to 15 percent of the adult population in Norfolk.


Knots whirl above the mudflats as the tide turns in The Wash
– Credit: Adrian Gardiner

Terns build nests in colonies close together. Experts believe that the flu spreads fastest among species that congregate or that hunt.

That makes strands of geese and dense groups of waders, like those on The Wash. to red kites, marsh harriers and buzzards vulnerable to infection.

Dead birds have already been seen in numbers on parts of the Broads.

Wroxham girls.  Photos: Brittany Woodman

Sun shines on River Bure in Wroxham ahead of expected heat wave
– Credit: Brittany Woodman

Ryan Jones, marketing manager for Herbert Woods yard in Potter Heigham, said: “It’s a terrible situation, but we don’t feed the birds around the marina and we don’t encourage our customers to do so.”

A worker from a wharf at the Bure in Wroxham said: “People have reported dead birds. We have told people to stay away from the birds and not to feed them.”

Another said she reported dead birds to Defra but no one had been there to collect the carcasses, although Defra says this is the responsibility of the local government.

A greylag goose at Cley Marshes.  Photo: David Thacker

A greylag goose at Cley Marshes. Photo: David Thacker
– Credit:

Defra figures for birds found dead that tested positive for the virus include reports from West Norfolk Municipality of four individuals, including sandwich tern and black-headed gull in July, a sandwich tern in June and four birds including greylag goose and whooper swan in January .

No other mark from Norfolk authorities – suggesting no testing is being done as no birds are being collected to take samples from.

Ms Luxton said: “The avian flu unfortunately continues to affect wild and domestic bird populations, causing alarming scenes in our countryside.

A sign at Docking on the Norfolk coast warns of a bird flu outbreak in the area

A sign on the Norfolk coast warning of a bird flu outbreak in the area earlier this year
– Credit: Chris Bishop

“Since the onset of this outbreak, the RSPB has been calling for the creation of a dedicated task force to manage and mitigate the impacts on wild birds, led by Defra.

“With so much at stake and so much other pressure on our wild birds, the response to bird flu from Defra has been inadequate so far.”

In a statement, Defra said it had “established practical guidelines to support land managers, the public and ornithological and environmental organizations in responding to the growing threat of avian influenza to wild birds.”

It said this also included monitoring the spread of the disease so it could be better understood.

Shooting Season Begins

(Photo: Andrew Mutimer)

(Photo: Andrew Mutimer)
– Credit:

The Countryside Alliance said the shooting season had started normally on October 1.

James Aris, shooting campaign manager, said: “Given the increase in reported cases, we have advised all shoots to continue to follow good practices and take appropriate biosecurity measures whether or not they are currently in a designated conservation area.

“All those involved in a shooting day, be it guns, goalkeepers or beaters, are in the field every day and can often be the first to identify cases of avian influenza in wild birds.

“It is therefore essential that everyone remains vigilant to help prevent further spread of the disease.”

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