Vets cull 26 of the birds on the River Thames in Windsor

Queen’s swans catch bird flu: Vets cull 26 of the birds on the River Thames in Windsor after six of the flock were killed by the deadly disease

  • 26 swans have been humanely culled at Windsor amid fears virus is spreading 
  • It comes as ‘six birds were pulled’ from the Thames at Windsor earlier this month
  • Monarch ‘saddened’ about the swans’ deaths and asked to be kept updated
  • Outbreaks of bird flu in other regions have seen swans infected and put down 

26 swans from the Queen’s own flock were culled by vets on the Thames at Windsor to stop the spread of bird flu.

At least six of the birds are understood to have died from avian influenza amid fears the virus may spread – and another was ‘found dead yesterday morning’ bringing the death toll to 33. 

Vets at the Swan Lifeline rescue centre were called in by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to humanely cull the swans. 

The Crown owns all mute swans – the most common of the UK’s three species – found on open water in Britain. 

26 swans from the Queen’s own flock were culled by vets on the Thames at Windsor to stop the spread of bird flu

At least six of the birds are understood to have died from avian influenza amid fears the virus may spread – and another was ‘found dead yesterday morning’

The Queen’s Swan marker David Barber has reportedly informed the monarch who is said to be ‘saddened’ and asked to be kept ‘fully updated’ with any news, according to The Sun Online.  

A traditional annual stock-take of swans on the River Thames is carried out each summer.

Known as Swan Upping, the ceremony dates back to the 12th century when the ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water in Britain was claimed by the Crown in order to ensure a ready supply for feasts.

Vets at the Swan Lifeline rescue centre were called in by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to humanely cull the swans

Bird flu near Eton College could see swans and other birds culled in 3km ‘killing zone’

Bird flu has flared near Eton College where Boris Johnson, Prince William and Prince Harry were pupils.

The location hasn’t been revealed but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says a ‘captive bird monitoring controlled zone has been put in place around the premises, spanning three kilometres, and all birds there will be humanely culled’.

It will alarm wildlife lovers because the 3km ‘killing zone’ so close to Eton will cover the River Thames, where there are hundreds of swans – legally owned by the Queen.

Outbreaks of bird flu in other regions have seen swans infected and put down.

The UK is facing its largest ever outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, with more than 60 cases confirmed since the start of November including among flocks of wild geese and ducks.

The UK’s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, is urging all poultry keepers ‘not to be complacent and to undertake the urgent biosecurity measures needed to keep their birds safe and help stop the spread of bird flu’.

Public health advice remains that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

There is no impact on the consumption of properly cooked poultry products, including eggs. 

The owner of the infected birds at Eton must make records of the name and address of any person visiting and whether the person had any contact with poultry or other captive birds.

A record must also be made as soon as reasonably practicable of all poultry and poultry eggs transported or marketed. 

The Government urges people not to touch or pick up any dead or sick birds and instead report them by calling 03459 335577.

Today, the Queen exercises this right only on certain stretches of the River Thames and surrounding tributaries.

The ownership is shared with the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the 15th century.

Swan Upping now serves as an annual health check when swans and cygnets are weighed, ringed and checked for signs of disease or injury. 

However, the ongoing Covid pandemic has meant count shave been disrupted due to restrictions – it is estimated there are between 150 and 200 swans in the 3km ‘killing zone’. 

This news comes after it emerged earlier this month that at least two of the Queens’ swans have died from bird flu at Windsor, two days after an outbreak of the virus was confirmed in nearby Eton and Maidenhead — where Boris John and Princes William and Harry were pupils at exclusive Eton College.

Swan Support, which rescues sick and injured swans within the Thames Valley area, said two of the birds – a cygnet, a young swan, and a yearling- were found dead from the disease within the flock that lives on the River Thames at Windsor.

It is also possible that other swans have died along the river but their bodies have not yet been recovered.  

Swan Support said a regular checks had been made on the Windsor flock over the last six weeks with no sign of the virus but a number of swans were now displaying symptoms.

The centre said it was likely the virus had ‘spread from a recent local outbreak’ presumably referring to the Eton and Maidenhead outbreak. 

Swan Support said: ‘We are sad to report that we have retrieved two dead swans from the Windsor flock – a cygnet and a yearling. Both died from Avian Flu, and whilst we can’t be certain of the source, it is likely it has spread from a recent local outbreak, as we have been checking on the Windsor birds for the past six weeks with no incidence of the virus. 

‘We are now closely monitoring the flock several times a day, and in particular a number of swans that are displaying symptoms.

‘We are in regular contact with the Royal Swan Marker and keeping him informed of all developments.

‘We are working extremely hard to minimise the impact of this virus and stop the spread. Our rescuers are on call 24 hours a day and we will go out immediately as soon as we are informed of a dead bird.’

Swan Support has asked people in Berkshire to keep a look out for any bird seen swimming in circles and unable to hold its head up.

‘We have a designated rescuer in the Reading area who has been dealing with the outbreak there for the past month and now have a designated rescuer in the Windsor area. Both are confined to their individual areas to prevent any cross contamination.

‘It is hard and heartbreaking work but we are dedicated and determined.

‘We are asking for your help as it is vital to contain this outbreak and limit the devastating consequences we know this virus can have.

‘Please pay particular attention to any bird that is swimming in circles and unable to hold its head up. We will then monitor the bird and retrieve it following recommended protocol. We have systems in place to ensure that we do not bring the disease into our facility.’     

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