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What is the potential impact of bird flu for the 2023 season?

As bird flu cases continue to increase in the crucial gamebird rearing areas of France, Shooting Times and the shooting organisations have begun to look ahead at potential impacts for the 2023 shooting season.

bird flu infrared

The supply of game birds from France to the UK was heavily disrupted in the spring due to import restrictions and lack of supply arising from an exceptionally severe outbreak of bird flu in northern France.

Game bird production in France is centred on the Pays de la Loire region, particularly the departments of Vendée and Loire Atlantique. Both of these departments have already begun to record bird flu cases. Since the first of August, which is considered to be the new bird season in France, Vendée has recorded 12 cases and Loire Atlantique has recorded two.

While these cases may drop off as winter progresses, it is more typical for case numbers to increase as weather becomes colder and more migrating wildfowl arrive. The French government has now raised the risk level for bird flu from ‘moderate’ to ‘high’.

Explaining this decision, Marc Fesneau, Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, said: “In a context marked by unprecedented persistence of the virus in the environment and strong migratory activity of wild birds, it is essential to strengthen preventive measures.”

Dominic Boulton of Aim to Sustain and the Game Farmers Association told Shooting Times: “It is far too early to make predictions about the impact Avian Influenza (AI) will have on our supplies of eggs and chicks next year, whether from domestic sources or overseas. The situation is being monitored closely and we are liaising with our colleagues in France and with DEFRA to make sure that every effort is made to avoid a repeat of the problems we saw last spring. Whether there are shortages or surpluses will depend as much on demand as it will on supply.”

Concerns continue to be raised in the shooting community of the impact of AI, both on this season but also in the long term. Anti-shooting campaign groups have used the issue to lobby against game bird imports, gamebird releases and against wildfowling. In the UK, the picture continues to be very concerning with 109 cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza recorded since the start of October.