Our recent blogs have share all the positive adventures of Leeds Castle’s wildlife and falconry.
For November, we thought we’d do things slightly differently. This month we are sharing our recent experiences regarding the Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) outbreak in the UK.
You’ve probably heard all about this in the news.
The virus is rife across the country at the moment and unfortunately, it has made its way to Leeds Castle. Before we go any further it’s important to point out that it’s not very common in Kent, however, there is also a very low risk to humans.
We wanted to share our experiences over the last month. This helps us explain the reasoning behind recent decisions, but also expands on what goes on behind the scenes.
It’s best to start with insight into what’s been going on across the country in regard to Bird Flu. It’s a huge problem at the moment for UK birds. In particular sea birds have suffered the most, losing thousands upon thousands of them.
It’s a dreadful virus. There’s no cure, no treatment or way to fight it once it’s contracted. It affects all species of birds and in rare cases mammals too.
Bird Flu has been quite prevalent over the last year seeing its biggest impact on bird life since its discovery. In fact, this time has been the worst on record.
As bird specialists, we have been aware of the risks and what to look for. We have abided by the rules set by the government to keep captive birds safe. We are observing our wildlife regularly in case there was ever a problem. This year we experienced this virus first-hand.
During one of our daily wildlife checks, we noticed a young cygnet behaving unusually. At this point Bird Flu hadn’t even crossed our minds, the symptoms didn’t match. We made the decision to take the swan to the vet for tests to distinguish what was going on.
A few days later, after tests and results, our worst fears were confirmed and Bird Flu, also known as H5N1, was present in the swan. Our biggest issue is the transmission of the virus which is most commonly done through bodily fluids like nasal discharge, and/or faeces. It’s easily spread from bird to bird especially waterfowl that spend most of their time on the water. We believe it was bought into Leeds Castle by a wild gull or swan which has flown in and spread the virus.
As if this news wasn’t bad enough, we then, very sadly, lost our newly released Black Swans who had succumbed to this virus and have unfortunately passed away. It’s come as a massive hit to our team. Especially after all the hard work that was put in to raise and release the swans. Getting to know them as individuals and forming attachments with them. A truly sad but also incredibly frustrating position to be in, with very little we’re able to do once a bird has the virus other than to keep it comfortable.
With the loss of the swans in mind, we had to make sure that our very much-loved Birds of Prey were as safe as physically possible. To do this we made the decision to close the Bird of Prey Centre temporarily to keep our captive birds safe. We reduced the footfall through our centre and only allowed the three of us access. Our birds are our top priority and their safety and welfare are taken more seriously than anything else.
Many of you visit Leeds Castle to see our birds and we appreciate your patience and kind words of encouragement. It is disappointing to reschedule your falconry experiences or not be able to see a display whilst on your visit. We hope you understand that our bird’s safety is our highest priority, and this closure was a must.
All three of us have experienced some of the most emotional moments we’ve ever had over the past few weeks. We are passionate bird enthusiasts so having to witness some of these things has been the hardest part of our jobs.
‘Gutting’ is the word we’ve found using to explain how it feels.
You’re fighting something you can’t see, something you can’t control or do anything about and it’s just the most heartbreaking thing to deal with. It’s not been easy to write this blog, but we feel, as a team, that everyone requires insight to help understand that situation.
It’s an uncontrollable virus in which we have to ‘wait it out’. There is no cure or preventative, so we need and are taking all precautions to reduce the risk of transmission.
The Bird of Prey Centre and Falconry Arena is now fully open with displays running at weekends and during school holidays (at 2:00 pm). We’re in the process of rescheduling our falconry experiences so no one will miss out on those either.
To celebrate our reopening after all this tragedy, we will be offering a huge 30% off all experiences for Black Friday. So keep your eyes peeled on social media for the discount code!
It’s also a good time to thank our wonderful trustees, CEO and management team who have supported us. But also our visitors. Everyone we have spoken to has been so kind and so supportive throughout this whole situation.
Onwards and upwards as they say.
As always, thank you for reading, if you have any questions about Bird Flu or the recent issues then please contact us.
The Falconry & Wildlife Team I [email protected]