Page last updated at 08:38 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 09:38 UK

Record year for bird flu swannery

Cygnets at Abbotsbury
More than 600 cygnets are due to be born this season

A record number of cygnets have been born at a Dorset swannery that was hit with bird flu earlier this year.

Ten wild mute swans and a Canada goose tested positive for the virulent H5N1 strain of the disease at Abbotsbury Swannery during the January outbreak.

Less than six months later it is having one of its busiest hatching seasons ever, after being reopened in March.

The swannery, which is home to a herd of 800 wild swans, is expecting more than 600 cygnets this season.

The outbreak was probably introduced by an infected migratory bird, Defra said.

We've learnt that it isn't the end of the world, that nature reserves can bounce back
John Houston
An epidemiology report found the strain of the virus was similar to that found in Europe in the latter part of 2007.

Swan herder David Wheeler said: "It was a grim time, we were very worried.

"We half expected to lose a lot of swans but it just seemed to be one or two birds over the whole of the lagoon."

Scientists believe the Abbotsbury swans may have developed some kind of immunity to the disease, which prevented it from spreading much further.

A swan and cygnets at Abbotsbury
The swannery is home to 800 wild swans
They claim it also explains why the new cygnets have been protected.

John Houston, manager of the swannery, said the birth of the cygnets showed nature reserves can "bounce back" from Bird Flu.

"Back in the January days it was all gloom and doom," he said.

"It really was hard to envisage that here we are today in May with the biggest hatching of cygnets at Abbotsbury that we've ever had.

"We would never have thought that was possible in January.

"We've learnt that it isn't the end of the world, that nature reserves can bounce back from this, as we see today."

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