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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 06:09 GMT 07:09 UK
Bug pinpointed in bird deaths
Mallard ducks
Botulism is thought to be the most likely culprit
Experts believe botulism may be to blame for the deaths of up to 75 wildfowl on a council-owned lake.

The birds including ducks, coots, swans and gulls, have died in the last four weeks at Brooklands Lake in East Worthing, West Sussex.

Experts at the government's Veterinary Laboratories Agency have been carrying out post-mortem examinations on a number of the birds to determine the exact cause of death.

The disease has caused flaccid paralysis in the birds preventing them from moving or eating.

Quite a large chunk of the bird population on the lake have already died

Chris Bradley, park manager
Worthing Borough Council's parks manager Chris Bradley said the deaths had been "very distressing".

Experts believe the warm weather and overfeeding may have been factors in the deaths.

Mr Bradley said: "As the water level fluctuates, any weed on the banks gets left high and dry and begins to rot.

"The ducks come and feed on the edges and some may have picked off rotting weed."

Another factor may have been visitors to the 45-acre park throwing large quantities of corn and bread onto the surface of the lake.

Mr Bradley said: "We have had a history of over-feeding at the lake and this has supported an artificially high population of birds.

Mallard duck
The birds cannot move or eat
"We have taken some birds to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Winchester but they have so far mostly been trying to discount a few things."

Mr Bradley said scientists there believed the most likely cause of the deaths was botulism.

"Their wings go floppy but their heads are upright and physically they can't move or eat.

"Quite a large chunk of the bird population on the lake have already died."

The results of the tests on the birds which have died at the eight acre lake are expected next week.

A council spokesman said signs would be put up to try to stop overfeeding, but he stressed the situation at Brooklands Lake did not present any "significant" risk to human health.

See also:

16 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Mallard under threat
02 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Lead shot ban to save waterfowl
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