People hate seagulls but I live with them at home despite bird flu fears

Few creatures in Britain are as divisive as seagulls, but there is a group of people who wilfully take in the winged beasts despite bird flu fears.

No matter how many beachgoers herring gulls manage to wind up, there remains an army of bird lovers willing to risk their own health by taking them into their own homes.

Bath tubs, living rooms and sheds have become homes to sick and injured gulls on the south coast, as the protected species faces decimation from a killer cocktail of threats.

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Highly-contagious and deadly bird flu is wiping out gulls at the same time as a terrifying spike in cruel yobs attacking them, volunteer chief Justin King claims.

Justin King of the Sussex-based Chicklet Crew who share their homes with unwell gulls, said his volunteers were “all physically and emotionally exhausted” from what has become a full-time 24/7 job tackling “hell”.

An outbreak of Avian Flu that swept through East and West Sussex in May left hundreds of adult birds dead or dying, with their healthy offspring left abandoned and starving.

Fear of further spreading has caused many rescue centres to lockdown their shelters and put them into quarantine – closing the door to new wounded birds.

Add to that the brutal treatment of the seaside’s protected, yet widely-loathed herring gull and the Chicklet Crew have more than their hands full.

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“The situation is beyond crazy,” Justin said. He explained volunteers were currently sharing their bathrooms, sitting rooms and garden sheds with birds as they recover.

He continued: “Our situation is now totally unmanageable. We are all physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to cope with the sheer volume of rescues.

“Most wildlife sites are closed, and volunteers have been left to do all the rescue work.”

Justin is furious not only at the workload facing volunteers but also public warnings from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

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He claims cruelty towards gulls has exploded on the south coast like never before after DEFRA "stirred up fear and panic".

Justin added: “What’s worse, the level of violence and open hostility towards these protected birds has increased 100-fold.

“DEFRA’s message to the public at the beginning of the outbreak has not helped either, stirring up fear and panic in the public.

“By telling people to avoid any birds that appear out of sorts and not to touch them, means that the public are too scared to try to help any of them, some of which may simply be starving or dehydrated rather than ill.

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“We know Avian Flu is highly contagious, but with some common sense and good precautions, all birds can then be checked.

“Those who are sick we take to a vet for euthanasia, rather than leaving them to die a slow, horrible death.

“We have had no support from Brighton & Hove Council or from DEFRA. It’s truly heartbreaking.”

Justin is appealing for more volunteer drivers and bird adopters whilefundraisingfor the cause online. More than £4,600 has already been donated.

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A DEFRA spokesperson told the Daily Star: “The advice from the UK Health Security Agency and APHA is that the public, including volunteers, should not touch or pick up any visibly sick birds that they find.

“This is important in order to protect the public from the risk of avian influenza and to minimise the risk of spreading the disease.”

Brighton and Hove Council is yet to respond to our request for a comment.

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