Seabird Group Seabird Group

The incursion of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) into North Atlantic seabird populations: an interim report from the 15th International Seabird Group conference

Emma J. A. Cunningham1, Amandine Gamble2,3,* ORCID logo, Tom Hart4 ORCID logo, Elizabeth M. Humphreys5 ORCID logo, Emma Philip6 , Glen Tyler6 and Matt J. Wood7 ORCID logo

1 Institute of Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Laboratories, King’s Buildings, Charlotte Auerbach Road, Edinburgh, EH9 3FL, UK;

2School of Biodiversity, One Health and Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow, Graham Kerr Building, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK;

3Department of Public and Ecosystem Health, Cornell University, Veterinary Research Tower, Ithaca NY 14853, New York, USA;

4Department of Biology, University of Oxford, 11a Mansfield Road, Oxford, OX1 3SZ, UK;

5BTO Scotland, Stirling University Innovation Park, Stirling, FK9 4NF, UK;

6NatureScot, Achantoul, Grampian Road, Aviemore, PH22 1QD, UK;

7University of Gloucestershire, Francis Close Hall, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, UK.

Full paper


The H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak devastated populations of North Atlantic seabirds in the 2022 breeding season. Positive cases of HPAI in seabirds were previously reported in Great Skuas Stercorarius skua colonies in the 2021 breeding season (Banyard et al. 2022). During the 2022 breeding season, major outbreaks were sequentially reported in an increasing number of species and spread generally north to south across the UK and beyond. To date 15 breeding seabird species have tested positive in Scotland and over 20,500 birds have been reported dead (NatureScot, unpublished data). By September 2022, more than 2,600 Great Skuas had died: 13% of the UK population and 8% of the world population (NatureScot, unpublished data), 1,400 on Foula, Shetland alone (Camphuysen & Gear 2022; Camphuysen et al. 2022). These figures are derived mostly from colony counts and will be a substantial underestimate of total mortality, not accounting for birds lost at sea or remote locations with limited reporting.

In response to this unfolding situation, a workshop was convened in August 2022, at the 15th International Seabird Group Conference in Cork, to bring together the seabird community (researchers, ringers, volunteers, site managers, non- government organisations and policymakers) and infectious disease experts to share knowledge and experiences and recommend positive future actions. This report focuses on three key considerations addressed by the workshop, and will be followed by a full open-access report on the EcoEvoRxiv repository. All six presen- tations can be viewed online (Gamble et al. 2022). The workshop’s key points were shared at the JNCC-BTO 'UK Workshop on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in Wild Birds' on 10 November 2022 and are being fed into ongoing policy discussions around future surveillance needs and requirements.

The views expressed here reflect the wider discussion expressed by the seabird community in the workshop that followed the presentations and should not be associated with any individual author.


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