Avian flu fears as migrating geese begin arriving at Scottish nature reserves

The arrival of geese on their annual migration to over-winter at Scottish nature reserves has left staff “excited but anxious” as the spectre of avian flu hangs over all wild and captive birds.

Thousands of barnacle geese were lost at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) Caerlaverock site on the Solway Firth south of Dumfries.

Other reserves have also reported arrivals and the skeins of geese are a regular sight in the skies over Scotland.

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At Caerlaverock, the distinctive black and white barnacle geese have begun to return this year as they head south from Svalbard, north of the Arctic Circle.

Thousands of barnacle geese have already made the annual migration to Caerlaverock near Dumfries (Pic: NatureScot)
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Site manager David Pickett said there were mixed emotions after a "tough winter" last time around.

When the reserve was set up in 1971, the barnacle goose population was 3,700, but that number had risen to 40,000 by last year.

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It has been estimated avian flu has cut those numbers by a third as it swept across Europe. Other fowl species, seabirds and even birds of prey have also been killed by avian flu,

Mr Pickett said the reserve was "braced and waiting" to see how many would return and how they would get on.

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He said the last winter was one that no-one would forget after the seriousness of the outbreak - described at the time as "unprecedented" - started to emerge.

"It was pretty grim really, it was a situation that gradually grew on us," he said.

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"We started finding small numbers of dead barnacle geese and then the numbers increased and increased as the winter went on.

"What we ended up needing to do was monitor the progress of the disease so we were doing regular counts to see how many fresh carcasses were appearing."

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He said that the first birds have started to arrive, prompting some nervous anticipation.

"We are now waiting to see what happens," said Mr Pickett.

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"The first about 1,000 birds have turned up here just in the last week or so.

"We will be monitoring them to see whether we start to get any fatalities.

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"We will be testing birds to see if they are dying of avian flu and we are just going to have to wait and see what actually happens."

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