A NEW potential infection source in the form of wild gulls migrating from Europe has led to renewed calls for biosecurity and vigilance on poultry farms.

In its latest outbreak assessment, Europe’s food safety authority reported that high numbers of black-headed gulls had tested positive for avian influenza.

See also: Warning over high number of gulls with AI in Europe

In the UK, gulls represent the highest number of wild birds testing positive for avian influenza over the past few weeks.

And this week, RSPB Salthome, Teeside, reported that about 300 black-headed gulls had been found dead in the area with avian influenza suspected. There are fears that the birds can intermingle in breeding grounds and subsequently move inland carrying viral load.

Four black headed gulls have also tested positive in Northern Ireland, prompting warnings from the Ulster Farmers Union’s policy manager James McCluggage.

Risk rises

He said: “The risk of AI has risen greatly after highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was detected recently in samples of dead black-headed gulls at four different locations in NI.

“It’s vital that all poultry and backyard keepers heighten and maintain first class standards of biosecurity and practice good farm hygiene at all times.

“This is the only way to protect their flock and the entire poultry sector from infection.”

Mr McCluggage added that dead wild birds also represented a risk to other livestock.

“Ruminant livestock farmers also need to be cautious of infected birds. Bird carcases have been known to cause and spread botulism which can be fatal if contracted by cattle or sheep.”