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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Bird watchers placed on flu-watch
Russian officials prepare to give a lethal injection to ducks in Siberia
More than 120,000 birds have been culled in Russia
Bird enthusiasts and the public are being encouraged to report evidence of serious disease in wild birds migrating from areas with avian flu.

Environment officials are urging people with concerns about unusual bird deaths to call a new helpline - 08459 335577.

The government has been promising to bring in precautions ever since bird flu was confirmed in Russia.

And the European Commission has banned all live bird and feather imports from Turkey after a flu outbreak there.

Swabs tested

The decision on Monday came after Turkish authorities slaughtered up to 2,000 birds in the north-west of the country in an effort to control the disease.

Results of tests to establish if cases found in Turkey and Romania are the H5N1 strain, which has killed more than 60 people in south east Asia, will be known by Wednesday.

Reports said the initial tests on the Romanian cases had proved negative for the strain.

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Experts say the virus was spread by migratory birds crossing Turkey on their way from Russia's Urals to Africa.

This summer, Siberian poultry farms reported their first cases of the virus, and in several instances, the strain was confirmed as H5N1.

The risk of the strain reaching Britain is still considered to be "low" but the government is asking people to be alert.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Food and Rural Affairs said: "There is a possibility that it could get here and so we are being vigilant."

In Britain one solution has been to "recruit those who deal with wild birds anyway" such as birdwatchers, scientists and game shooters, said BBC rural affairs correspondent Tom Heap.

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Spotters will be asked to look out for large numbers of unusual deaths in species that have come from Russia, which are mainly types of ducks.

Wild bird experts from groups such as the RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology will be trapping ducks and sending swabs off for testing.

Wild fowlers will be asked to do the same with birds they have shot, added our correspondent.

Annual migration

Ruth Cromie from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today the surveillance would be useful for conservation - as well as helping protect against avian flu.

She said the government was also monitoring domestic poultry flocks, where the disease was thought more likely to appear.

The public should be on the lookout for unusually high numbers of birds that have died in one location, in a relatively short period of time, rather that "any old sick pigeon," she said.

But she warned that wild birds die of a large variety of diseases, and seeing a dead bird should not necessarily cause alarm.

The annual migration from Siberia has just begun and the project will last for around three months.




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