More than a dozen swans from the flock in Shakespeare’s hometown are killed by bird flu – as experts warn the outbreak of the deadly virus is ‘beyond control’

  • Outbreak of avian flu confirmed in Stratford-Upon-Avon after several swans die 
  • Government scientists testing birds to determine which virus strain responsible 
  • Expert warned the huge flock of swans popular with tourists is now under threat

More than a dozen swans from a flock popular with tourists in Shakespeare’s home town have been killed by bird flu as one expert warned that the virus there is ‘beyond control’.

Government scientists are currently conducting tests on the birds which died following an outbreak of avian flu in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Tens of thousands of tourists visit the Warwickshire town and birthplace of playwright William Shakespeare each year to marvel at the scores of swans living on the River Avon. Numbers of the birds there are now at a record high – 150 according to a count in July last year.  

But in recent weeks, several of the swans – as well as ducks and geese – have been struck down with avian flu leaving wildlife experts fearing Stratford-upon-Avon’s swan population could be wiped out.

An outbreak was first confirmed at a rescue centre in Wychbold, a 40-minute drive from Stratford-upon-Avon, but now the town’s rescue group says their swan population is at risk after several birds contracted the deadly disease. 

Cyril Bennis, who runs Stratford-Upon-Avon Swan Rescue group and is a former mayor of the town, warned the current outbreak – one of two currently active in the UK – was ‘beyond control’.

More than a dozen swans from a flock popular with tourists in Stratford-upon-Avon (pictured) have been killed after an outbreak of avian flu occurred in a Worcestershire rescue centre

Cyril Bennis from Stratford-upon-Avon Swan Rescue (pictured) says the community is ‘very concerned’ about the outbreak which has led to the death of several swans in the region

Mr Bennis, 72, who has been caring for swans in the Worcestershire town for 40 years, said: ‘Three weeks ago one of the sanctuaries that we take our swans to was shut down because of suspected avian flu.

‘The swans that were on the mend there had to be put to sleep.

‘The other rescue centre also had to be shut down because two swans there also had suspected avian flu.’

Mr Bennis said that officials from the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) came and collected swans that had already died two weeks ago but that more animals were ‘dying left, right and centre’.

He added: ‘I am having to pile them up in order to get some clarity on what I am supposed to do with them.

‘At the moment, I have over a dozen dead birds – not only swans but ducks and geese too.

Map showing where the outbreak of avian flu was first confirmed at Wychbold rescue centre (yellow), near Stratford-upon-Avon. A second outbreak is currently being monitored in Wrexham (green)

Stratford is also the birthplace of William Shakespeare (pictured), known as the Swan of Avon

‘I have had to put two swans to sleep today, one last night, seven others have died of suspected avian flu in the last few days – it’s a daily occurrence.

‘I really fear that the entire population, which is more than 70 swans, could be seriously under threat.

‘It is frustrating and heart-breaking to see any animal suffer in front of you. These animals are perfectly healthy one day, and then dead the next.

‘I watched one last night as died in my arms and I could not do anything about it.

‘Our community is very concerned about what is happening.’

Avian flu, more commonly known as bird flu, is not an airbourne virus but spreads bird-to-bird through direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces according to Defra.

The virus can also be spread by contaminated feed and water or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear. 

Cases can spike during winter months if birds migrating from mainland Europe to the UK are carrying the disease.

The virus can, in certain cases, also affect humans although Defra says the risk to the public is low.

Large flock of swans in Stratford-upon-Avon are popular with tourists, especially in summer

There are two strains of the virus with one being more severe. Defra is currently running tests to determine the strain confirmed in Stratford. A second wave of bird flu has been confirmed at a premises in Wrexham in Wales.

Meanwhile, the rescue centre where the disease was first confirmed has been closed while the outbreak is active.

Wychbold Swan Rescue said it was ‘devastated’ by the outbreak and is currently the subject of a Defra control zone.

The outbreak meant all birds at the site had to be culled while officers also put in place a 3km and 10km control zone measure around the premises.

In a statement, Wychbold Swan Rescue told its supporters: ‘As you can imagine, we are devastated by recent events.

‘You may of heard on the news, it has been confirmed that our beloved birds have had to be euthanised after testing positive for avian influenza.

‘We can’t believe this has happened again. This means until further notice, we are unable to attend to any birds.

‘It’s an extremely unfortunate situation that everyone at Swan Rescue is thoroughly broken-hearted about.’ 

An outbreak late last year resulted in the death of around 25 swans in Stratford, as well as others in Worcester and Evesham.

MailOnline has contacted Defra for comment. 

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