Wildfowlers heading out to the marshes for the start of the new season tomorrow will be a key element in the UK?s defence against the prospect of bird flu this winter.

Fowlers are central to the Government?s monitoring system. Dr Peter Marshall, research officer at BASC, told ST: ?Monitoring of shot birds up and down the country by wildfowling clubs will hopefully help to warn us of the presence of bird flu. We?re actually running a wider shot-bird surveillance programme similar to the one we ran last year in conjunction with DEFRA. This year we?ll be surveying larger numbers of sites.

The key thing is for people to watch out for unusual numbers of dead birds ? the key species being swans, duck and also geese.? If you discover die-offs involving three or more dead birds of the same species or five or more dead birds from different species in the same location, you should contact DEFRA, tel (0845) 933 5577. For more information on the disease and how it affects shooting, visit www.basc.org.uk