01:00PM, Thursday 06 January 2022
All of the swans at a rescue centre in Eton have had to be humanely killed due to an outbreak of bird flu.
The UK is facing its largest ever outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1, with more than 60 cases confirmed across the country since the start of November.
After discovering cases among its flock, Swan Lifeline on Cuckoo Weir Island was obliged to put every one of its 26 birds to sleep.
On its website, Swan Lifeline wrote that this action prevented the swans from the ‘horrific and lethal effects’ of the virus and also protected other river wild fowl from potentially catching it.
Swan Lifeline's chair, Dominic Smulders, said: "This has been a devastating and heart-breaking time for all of us at Swan Lifeline but I want to commend our on-site team for their absolute professionalism during these traumatic few days.
“DEFRA's opinion was that we did everything we possibly could to prevent an outbreak but because we're situated on an island, wild birds have access and also fly over the pens, bringing with them the virus.
“Nature is beautiful – but it can also be cruel.”
Swan Lifeline has closed its doors until February.
Meanwhile, Swan Support rescue centre in Datchet retrieved two dead swans from the Windsor flock yesterday (Thursday) – a cygnet and a yearling.
It is now closely monitoring the flock several times a day, in particular a number of swans that are displaying symptoms. It is ‘heart-breaking work’, the centre says.
“It’s just a nightmare – it could end up being a disaster,” said Wendy Hermon, treatment and rescue centre co-ordinator.
In 2018, 70 birds were lost from the Windsor flock but the virus was contained in the Windsor area. The hope is to do the same this time.
Swan Support has a designated rescuer in Windsor, on call 24 hours a day. They will head out immediately upon hearing of a dead bird, as leaving it in the river allows the virus to spread.
The charity has asked that residents look out for birds swimming in circles and unable to hold their heads up. If you see sick or dead swans, call 07968-868172 / 01628 876336.