Bird Flu

The UK is currently under high alert for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N8) so even those of us with a few hens are required by law to adhere to the biosecurity measures set out by government. Oh, if only it were as simple as donning a mask and maintaining social distance…

I am disappointed as I have recently – finally – had a few birds visit my feeders, which are in the garden where the chickens and ducks range. I have had to remove these as well as fence off the ducks from the chickens. Having scourged the official documents for information, I can’t work out how the wild birds are meant to cope with this sudden change in feeding, so there seems to be no alternative apart from to stop and discourage any interaction with wild birds? Needless to say, the avian flu outbreak started at a poultry farm (in Russia), and is now being spread through the wild bird population and along the migratory routes in to Europe. More outbreaks at commercial poultry farms here in the UK, yet the only advice is that poultry and eggs are still regarded as safe to eat. Our farmland birds particularly are struggling with loss of food and habitat; I feel at a loss.

I am a keen birder and artist, with a particular interest in painting birds. Honestly, if I had to choose between keeping domestic poultry or supporting wild birds, I would choose the latter. I love my chooks, and really enjoy having them in my life, but this situation makes me feel genuinely compromised. I don’t need to keep chickens, but we do need wild birds, and I find it hard to believe that avian influenza would be so prevalent if there was more balance and biodiversity.

The lack of integration with nature and food production is so overwhelmingly obvious to me, and the repercussions are played out again and again. It’s a similar situation with beekeeping: prioritising honey bees over other pollinators by allowing poorly-regulated imports of queens and bees and advising constant feeding of colonies to ‘prevent starvation’ yet doing nothing to encourage provision of natural forage or improve conditions for our wild, native bees.

My only solution would appear to be to move my bird-feeding provision elsewhere. I am a big believer in making natural feeding habitat for birds rather than giving them supplementary food anyway, so part of my plans for the apiary next year will to be to add a more holistic plant species to the mix so birds and bees get fed: more integration between beekeeping and wildlife. I am hopefully running some workshops next year for the Small Farm Training Group about gardening for wildlife, and my own courses will be back on stream in the spring. I am currently devising a Gardening for Bees & Wildlife in a Box course along the same lines as my beekeeping one, as well as designing poster about increasing biodiversity in the apiary. Our gardens and apiaries are such vital and valuable habitats, it is so important we maximise their impact for nature.

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