Defra has confirmed today (Wednesday 11 November) that the deaths of several black swans, including five cygnets, in Dawlish this week is due to a strain of avian flu.
On Monday this week (9 November), the death of one adult black swan and five cygnets was confirmed in Dawlish. Investigations have been carried out and testing by the APHA – a subsidiary of Defra – has confirmed their death was the result of Avian flu (H5N8).
A further two swans (one of which was the mother of the cygnets) died overnight on Tuesday (10 November); the cause of death is as yet unknown but Defra have taken the bodies for testing. A number of other swans are also unwell and being monitored by the Dawlish Town Council Waterfowl Wardens.
This strain of the virus is considered very low risk in terms of transmission to humans, but anyone who has had close and prolonged contact with the birds are being assessed in line with national guidance, and advice given.
Public Health England has advised that the H5N8 strain of the virus poses very little risk to public health.
Dawlish Town Council, which looks after the world-renowned swans, has asked people to stay away from the birds while they are being monitored and looked after by its wardens.
Andrew McKenzie, Dawlish Town Clerk, said: “We are really sad about the deaths of our very special black swans, and at the news that tests have now confirmed the cause is avian flu.
“We understand the risk of bird to human transmission in this strain is minimal, however public safety is our first priority, and we will be working with the lead agencies to ensure all the necessary guidelines are being followed.
“We know that the black swans are a well known and much loved local feature in our town, as well as an important boost to our tourism industry, so we will work together to try to protect the birds against further spread and do everything we can to keep them safe and well.
“We are asking the public to stay away from the remaining birds, and to avoid feeding or touching them. We’d also ask anyone who sees an ill or dead bird to report it immediately.”
Dominic Mellon, Lead Consultant in Health Protection for PHE South West, said: “Avian influenza is uncommon in humans and the risk to the health of the local population remains very low. We will continue to work with Defra, Devon County Council, Teignbridge District Council, Dawlish Town Council and the local NHS to monitor the situation.
“We would like to remind the public not to touch sick or dead birds. And always make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after touching animals, especially wild animals.”
Dawlish Mayor Cllr Alison Foden said: “This is obviously devastating news for us, not just as a council but for the Parish of Dawlish as a whole. We are famous for our black swans all over the world, they hold a special place within our communities and their health and wellbeing is really important to us. We will be following the advice of partner agencies to ensure we can continue being the home of the black swan.”
Members of the public are also being asked to report any ill or dead birds to Teignbridge District Council on 01626 361101 or on the Teignbridge District Council website.
For more information about Avian Flu, please visit – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu.