The RSPB has called for an emergency shooting ban after an “unprecedented” outbreak of bird flu that has left wildfowl populations in “catastrophic decline”.
Migratory geese that overwinter on the Solway Firth, which stretches between Scotland and Cumbria, are being hardest hit, with a 38% decline in the Svalbard barnacle goose breeding population from winter last year.
While these are protected species and not subject to hunting, experts argue that pressure from wildfowlers on nearby, legal quarry species can have an impact. Shoots nearby can cause stress, scaring the birds into the air where they use up vital energy.
Some estimates suggest the UK is facing the worst outbreak of avian influenza on record. Latest population counts of the Svalbard breeding population show a drop in numbers from 43,703 in November last year to 27,133 in this month’s counts.