Local groups of dedicated bird lovers last year went beyond breaking point as they worked around the clock to help injured and orphaned birds following the closures of wildlife sites in the wake of the Avian Flu crisis. This year looks set to be different.
The outbreak of Avian Flu that swept through East and West Sussex earlier in May last year left hundreds of adult birds dead or dying, with their healthy offspring left abandoned
Volunteers stepped into rescue reported injured or distressed birds, including pigeons that were not affected by the epidemic and were put into strict quarantine measures. Once out they were sent into rehab centres in and out of Sussex and later released, living happy healthy lives.
Justin King who runs the East Sussex Rescue Group and Nerys Deutsch the West Sussex side called The South Coast & Sussex Bird/Gull Volunteer Network (jokingly known as The Chicklet Crew) were among others called out day and night to help with rescues and rehabilitation of injured or malnourished birds.
He said “Looking back, I don’t know how anyone managed as well as they did. It was well known that volunteers were left to deal with the situation last year and it definitely left scars. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, so myself and Nerys drew up strict measures as outlined to us by one sanctuary who specialises in gulls. Once Avian Flu had been confirmed last April, we went into overdrive to make special arrangements. Within two weeks we had on board a publicist to highlight the help we needed, brought in fosterers who worked closely with us to turn their homes into isolation areas, plus new rescuers came in to help get casualties back onto rooftop nests during baby season. Many coped extremely well, but others found it too much and left. It became massively tense and stressful. Luckily, we’ve had the winter to recover which is critical for any volunteer to avoid burnout.
“I know too well how all-consuming it was for everyone” said Justin. “To top it, misinformation and internet hysteria contributed to the stress, but that’s Facebook for you. Too many know-it-alls, not enough truth”.
Much like Covid, Avian Flu has died down, but only a little. It has spread to other waterfowl and still remains rife in many areas of the UK and beyond.
“Last year took us by surprise. But this year we are taking no chances and plans are underway to make sure everyone knows the quarantine and sanitising regulations (just in case) before handling each casualty. We now know that at least three wildlife sites in Sussex are expanding upon their isolation units, one of which was partially funded by our fundraiser which we are continuing to do. Our fundraiser and supporters kept us going and it has also allowed us to set up a fully functional aviary, which opens up for the first time in Worthing this spring. Plus we helped in a small way to finance other volunteer groups and Rehab sites up and down the UK where there is so little available in the way of help. Its been gut wrenching all round, but we just continued” said Justin.
“We will know in the next month or so where we stand with Avian Flu. Should it return we hope to be prepared. If it doesn’t return to affect gulls, quarantine measures will still be needed. All it will take is one case to put an entire wildlife site into jeopardy. We won’t allow that. The feedback of last year from the sites who worked with us is that our measures were 100% effective. That’s a percentage that made the job worth it, even if it did make us unpopular with our over-zealous measures! Dialogue has opened up with some wildlife sites so we hope for a better year.”
But what we need this season are back up plans… just to be safe
The group desperately needs more drivers and rescuers to help oversee each rescue. Those who can go out to either injured or abandoned casualties they spot online. Any offers of more outdoor spaces, ideally an aviary to house healthy quarantined young abandoned chicks until fit for release or transfer to wildlife sites in the local area. However, many elements of rescuing is not something that can be done on your own initiative. Not in the beginning. Every case is specific so working as part of an established team of knowledgeable staff is key. Teamwork is essential. If all you can do is get a towel over a casualty to put in a crate, this alone will save us a job.
“Right now, we’re in a cost of living crisis. Even volunteers have to work, so expecting someone to go out at a moment’s notice is not going to happen. Get a casualty safe, inside and behind closed doors, then contact us. We have plenty of carriers so just ask” said Justin.
“We’re funded by the public so if all you can do is donate, anything even in the way of cat or dog food is helpful. What we don’t use we pass onto charities who may need it more. If you would like to volunteer or support the team this summer, please go here…”