05:10PM, Tuesday 14 June 2022
L-R: Roopa D’Almeida, Niki Molnar, Natasha Zarach, Cllr Andrew Johnson, Adam Afriyie, Cllr Samantha Rayner, Cindy Smulders, and Dominic Smulders. Photo: Swan Lifeline
A swan rescue charity in Eton welcomed Windsor MP Adam Afriyie and Royal Borough leaders to its centre last week after being closed for 90 days due to an avian flu outbreak.
Swan Lifeline, based at Cuckoo Weir Island, was reopened in April after tragically being ordered to have 26 of its swans and cygnets euthanised by the Animal & Plant Health Agency when the disease broke out in January.
Mr Afriyie joined council leader Councillor Andrew Johnson and deputy Cllr Samantha Rayner on Friday to meet with chair of trustees, Dominic Smulders, who was on hand to show the trio around the centre and explain the impact of the closure.
The political visitors heard that avian flu usually died out by the end of April but this season has been the worst on record with double the number of cases over the previous year.
Cases are still being reported in the UK in June and sea birds have recently started to be affected in Scotland.
“The DEFRA protocols for disinfection and clean–up are aimed at commercial poultry farms: it’s for birds that enter the food chain,” Dominic said.
“The protocols are, for the most part, irrelevant to wild bird rescue centres, which cause excessive closure time and cost.”
One example was when the centre was told by DEFRA to re-stock with 30 swans to test that the virus had been eradicated, which Swan Lifeline said 'took weeks to negotiate around'.
Mr Afriyie agreed to help the trustees start the process of amending the avian flu protocols for wild bird rescue centres and sanctuaries.
Swan Lifeline's proposals for change have also had the support of the Queen's Swan Marker and the Worshipful Companies of Vintners and Dyers, which jointly own the tagged swans along the River Thames with the Crown.
The visitors were shown the Swan Education Centre and heard about the work Swan Lifeline was doing with students with learning disabilities.
The charity is working with special needs students from the Berkshire College of Agricultural to plan and build a new pen, which has already been partially funded.
Mr Afriyie and the councillors also learned of the dangers of low flying swans to drivers of high-sided vehicles on the Royal Windsor Way, and discussed whether warning or information signs would be appropriate.
Swan Lifeline said that it is called out every week to a swan that has either been hit by a vehicle or which has landed on the bypass, causing traffic disruption, with Dominic explaining that a swan can easily mistake the road for the river, especially after it has rained.
There was also an opportunity Swan Lifeline’s ICU patients (two cygnets named Fluffy and Gloria) and a swan with serious injuries to its feet.
Meanwhile, the visitors also met the centre’s resident nesting swans - Betty & Phil (named after The Queen and her late husband Prince Philip) together with their three-day old cygnets (pictured below).
If you see a swan or cygnet in distress, or where it shouldn't be, phone Swan Lifeline on 01753 859397 or visit swanlifeline.uk/injuries-advice
A DEFRA spokesman said: “Our restocking procedures are designed for all types of premise – with restocking with the same number and type of birds that were on the premises at the time of disease confirmation being the standard starting approach.
“The Animal and Plant Health Agency worked closely with the rescue centre to agree an approach that enabled them successfully complete its cleaning and disinfection – including a restocking protocol using an alternative species.”