Bird flu testing is cut despite fears virus has spread

Number of wild birds monitored by government vets down 17% – and even those tests may be seriously flawed, experts say

A A A

Testing for the spread of bird flu in Britain has been heavily cut, even as the danger from the disease has escalated, an Independent on Sunday investigation has revealed. And there is disturbing evidence that even such testing as is carried out is seriously flawed.

Official figures show that the number of wild birds tested by the Government has fallen by 17 per cent over the last year – at a time when ministers have urged the public to be vigilant – and that, even at their highest, the figures were running far behind similar monitoring levels in other European countries.

The revelation comes amid fears that the highly infectious H5N1 strain of the disease – which has killed millions of birds and 216 people worldwide – is now at large in Britain's wild bird population, after its discovery in three swans at Dorset's Abbotsbury Swannery last week.

Twenty-two Government vets are undertaking emergency "surveillance and monitoring" of wild birds in the county over the weekend, but critics accuse them of doing too little, too late.

Peter Ainsworth, the Conservative environment spokesman, yesterday called the decrease in testing "staggering", and is to write to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, to demand an explanation.

The Abbotsbury discovery is the first occurrence of the disease in Britain that seems to have been caused by infection from wild birds. Outbreaks in East Anglian turkey farms last year could have been linked to the poultry trade, while an infected swan found in a Scottish harbour in 2006 seems to have died out at sea only to be washed ashore.

The Abbotsbury swans do not move from the area, suggesting the disease will have been brought to them by a wild bird. And since there is little migration from abroad at this time of year, there are fears the virus may have been at large, undetected, in Britain for months.

Yet only 2,990 wild birds were tested for the disease between August and December, compared with 3,504 during the same period in 2006. This compares with tens of thousands tested each year in countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs refuses to identify the sites where the testing is carried out, but little or none appears to be done over large swathes of the country, including the North-east, Cumbria and much of the Midlands and South-east England.

Furthermore, serious doubt is cast on the efficacy of the testing by its failure to pick up other, less deadly, forms of the disease. Only 0.16 per cent of the birds tested so far in Britain have been found to be infected by such forms, compared to about 20 per cent in Scandinavia and more than 6 per cent in the Netherlands. One reason may be that British tests do not put their samples in a preservative solution as is done in other countries, an omission that, experts say, could cause the virus to decompose.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee