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Blackbirds under threat from mosquito-borne virus
Usutu virus was first detected in the UK in 2020.
Researchers ask public to help monitor UK blackbird numbers.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is asking the public to take part in a new survey to help it monitor the impact that Usutu virus is having on UK blackbirds.

The mosquito-borne virus was first detected in the UK in London in 2020. Since then, blackbird numbers, which were already in decline, have decreased much more strongly in the Greater London Area. There is also evidence of a wider decline in the south of England.

The virus’ spread has been linked to climate change. It was first identified in South Africa and has been present in mainland Europe for three decades. It is now considered to be endemic in South East England.

The BTO researchers hope that the Blackbirds In Gardens survey will help them to form a clearer picture of the possible spread and impact of the virus on blackbirds in a wide range of different locations, both urban and rural.

Usutu virus can be transmitted to humans. However, the bird-biting mosquitoes which carry it rarely bite humans and infections in people are mainly asymptomatic.

The survey is part of Vector-Borne RADAR, a government-funded project being run in partnership with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), the UK Health Security Agency, and the Zoological Society of London.

Arran Folly, a senior scientist at APHA and Vector-Borne RADAR project lead, said: “Our Vector-Borne RADAR project is helping to develop a better picture of emerging mosquito-borne viruses and the findings from BTO’s Blackbirds In Gardens survey will be invaluable in building a better understanding of how the virus could be impacting our blackbird populations.

“I would urge any garden owners to take part and help us keep track of this virus.”
Those wishing to take part in the survey can sign up here.

Image © Shutterstock

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Charities' XL bully neutering scheme closes

News Story 1
 A scheme that helped owners of XL bully dogs with the cost of neutering has closed to new applications due to high demand.

The scheme, run by the RSPCA, Blue Cross, and Battersea, has helped 1,800 dogs and their owners after XL bullies were banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

In England and Wales, owners of XL bully dogs which were over one year old on 31 January 2021 have until 30 June 2024 to get their dog neutered. If a dog was between seven months and 12 months old, it must be neutered by 31 December 2024. If it was under seven months old, owners have until 30 June 2025.

More information can be found on the Defra website. 

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News Shorts
Avian flu cattle outbreak spreads to tenth US state

Cattle in two dairy herds in Iowa have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), making it the tenth state in the USA to be affected by the ongoing outbreak of the disease in cattle.

Since March 2024, more than 80 herds across the USA have been affected by the virus and three dairy workers have tested positive. Authorities have introduced measures to limit the spread of the virus and farmers have been urged to strengthen their biosecurity protocols.

Mike Naig, Iowa secretary of agriculture, said: "Given the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza within dairy cattle in many other states, it is not a surprise that we would have a case given the size of our dairy industry in Iowa.

"While lactating dairy cattle appear to recover with supportive care, we know this destructive virus continues to be deadly for poultry."