Avian botulism threat to our wild birds

There are fears Burnley’s wild bird population could be wiped out after an outbreak of a deadly disease.

Lorraine Camara with her daughter Masireh (4) at Lowerhouse Lodge where geese and ducks have been dying from avian botulism.
Lorraine Camara with her daughter Masireh (4) at Lowerhouse Lodge where geese and ducks have been dying from avian botulism.

In the last two weeks tens of birds, mainly ducks and geese, have been found dead from avian botulism at Lowerhouse Lodge, Knotts Lane.

Residents said they have been forced to take the carcasses to local vets to be incinerated while Lorraine Camara and her four-year-old daughter, Masireh, have made a makeshift hospital for sick birds in their garden shed.

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Lorraine, a teacher, of Lowerhouse Lane, said: “It’s absolutely terrible, we’ve had to set up a makeshift shelter for the birds. At the moment we’ve got a gosling, a goose and a blackbird in there. Once they have avian botulism they need isolating and we have been trying to keep them hydrated.”

Avian botulism is a strain of botulism which affects wild and captive birds, mainly waterfowl. The disease is spread through them eating infected maggots. As more birds die and the number of maggots on carcasses increases, there is potential for a large outbreak.

Lorraine said she has reported the matter to Burnley Council and other authorities but said she has not received help or advice on how to deal with the problem.

“With a Canada goose I am not physically strong enough to pull the bodies out of the water. I’ve been asking friends to come round and help me.

“It’s awful. This is supposed to be a leisure facility and a nature reserve but soon all the wildfowl is going to be wiped out.”

Lorraine also worries her own birds, two chickens and two large muscovy ducks who live in her garden, could become infected. She said her daughter has been upset by all the dead birds.

“She has been really involved in all this. She has been feeding the sick birds water with a pipette and says she now wants to be a vet.”

Another Lowerhouse resident, who did not want to be named, added: “The authorities don’t want to know. There have been dead and dying ducks all over the place. I reckon the number of dead birds is well over 20. I think the lodge should be shut down until the problem has been solved. I’ve heard there has also been an outbreak at Cornfield Lake, off Padiham Road.”

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Mick O’Neill, from Pendle and Burnley District Anglers, who use the lodge for fishing, said the RSPCA had taken some carcasses from the site.

“It’s a wildlife sanctuary for the ducks, we do as much as we can, we test the water regularly and have a bailif that goes down there twice a day.”

A spokesman for the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency said: “AHVLA is aware of a number of cases of suspected avian botulism in waterbirds in parts of central and northern England.

“Our investigations so far have found no evidence of a notifiable animal disease or risk to human health. As 
a precaution we advise dog walkers to keep their pets away from birds and water, and to prevent their dogs from attacking sick or weak birds.

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“AHVLA investigates several incidents of suspected avian botulism in waterbirds each year in England and Wales. The disease is not unusual and may be associated with deaths in wild birds. Anyone finding five or more dead wild birds should call the Defra Helpline on 08459 33 55 77.”

A Burnley Council spokesman said: “As soon as we were made aware of this issue we acted. A council officer has visited the site and found one dead duck which he removed. Council park rangers will regularly visit the lake and remove any dead birds.”