Council ‘should have acted sooner’ to shut down park amid scenes of spinning dying birds

Belfast City Council has announced that the Waterworks Park in north Belfast has been shut to the public due to bird flu.

Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 11:56 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 1:04 pm
One of the many dead swans in The Waterworks, Belfast
One of the many dead swans in The Waterworks, Belfast

But for one SDLP councillor, the move has come too late.

Paul McCusker told the News Letter that there had been signs of sick birds weeks ago, and that he contacted the council on Sunday as evidence of the problems mounted, saying the park needed to close.

Now the council has shut its gates and sent in workers to kill stricken birds, if needed.

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It comes after days of reports of birds behaving bizarrely and then dying in parks across the Province.

Authorities believe it is linked to the arrival in Northern Ireland of H5N1 – a particularly virulent strain of bird flu.

There have been bird culls of privately-owned flocks in Aughnacloy (around 27,000) and Broughshane (about 300), but in terms of wild birds The Waterworks was among the first places to be hit.

The symptoms can be distressing:

The strain of bird flu was first confirmed in Monaghan, near the Armagh border, on December 3.

As of December 5 it had been confirmed in wild birds at The Waterworks and the Harbour Estate, both in north Belfast, and Monlough Lake near Carryduff.

As of Tuesday morning, two premises – one in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, one in Broughshane, Co Antrim – had officially tested positive after earlier suspected outbreaks.

Reports have also surfaced of birds falling ill in Hillsborough too.

Now The Waterworks has been closed to the public.

It is comprised of two lakes, and is one of the few major parks in the dense urban north Belfast area.

COUNCIL TAKES ACTION:

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “As the outbreak continues to escalate across Northern Ireland, as a precautionary approach the Waterworks Park will close until further notice.

“It is important to note that the Pubic Health Authority (PHA) advice remains that the risk to general public health is very low and that human infections with avian influenza are rare.

“This precautionary approach will give us an opportunity to seek further guidance and advice from DAERA and the PHA...

“We are also arranging for an on-call vet to be available to assess sick and dying birds and, if required, humanely euthanise these birds.

“In line with guidance our park wardens are removing any deceased birds from the site. The main species of bird affected at the Waterworks are swans.”

CLOSURE ‘CAME TOO SLOWLY’:

A number of social media users have complained that the authorities, including the council which owns The Waterworks, were sluggish to act.

One Twitter user, called simply Hugh (@shuggieh), said: “Over a week later. Took ya long enough.

“Should have done all that a week ago when it was reported to you.

“I phoned twice last week about it.”

Councillor McCusker told the News Letter: “It’s been going on for weeks. Certainly the situation has escalated.

“What the council was saying was they were taking advice from DAERA and the PHA.

“I don’t think they’ve ever experienced anything as bad as this.

“I think the park should’ve been closed earlier – certainly at the weekend when things were getting a lot worse, the park should have been closed, definitely.

“It’s not fair on children and families to witness this.”

A Belfast City Council spokesperson responded by saying: “Our staff have been dealing with the impact of the avian flu outbreak at the Waterworks and as it has been an evolving situation, the decision was taken to close the park as a precautionary measure.

“We have also sought expert advice to support us while we continue to manage this issue.”

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