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Northern Ireland to face ‘huge bill’ for bird cull after avian flu closes Belfast park, warns Edwin Poots

Northern Ireland is likely to face a huge bill of tens of millions of pounds for compensation because birds have had to be culled because of avian flu, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has said.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan radio programme, Mr Poots said up to 20 flocks could be affected, as is the case in Britain, and when it comes to how much it could cost, it's a case of "how long is a piece of string".

"Some flocks it could be £200,000, some flocks it could be a million - it just depends on the scale. You could maybe get five or six chicken houses in the one place and particularly if there are parent or grandparent poultry there, they are of higher value because they're producing the chicks. It's a significant concern for us," he said.

Around 27,000 ducks were culled last week after an outbreak in Co Tyrone while suspected cases were also found in a "backyard flock" in Broughshane in Co Antrim.

The Waterworks Park in north Belfast has now been temporarily closed by Belfast City Council due to an outbreak of avian flu after videos were circulated on social media of birds in distress or dead. Avian flu has also been found in wild birds in the Harbour Estate and in Carryduff.

A spokesperson said that 16 dead birds had been removed from the park in recent days.

"We have engaged an independent expert to review our approach and management plan to deal with this ongoing issue," they said.

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"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."

Park wardens are removing any dead birds from the site and that the main species affected at the Waterworks were swans.

"As the outbreak continues to escalate across Northern Ireland, as a precautionary approach the Waterworks Park will close until further notice," they said.

"We're continuing to work alongside and seek advice from the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Public Health Agency (PHA) in response to this issue. We would ask the public not to visit Waterworks Park at this time as we continue to manage the ongoing situation."

The agriculture minister described avian flu, which is brought by birds arriving from Russia, Iceland and Greenland as "a devastating flu".

"If it comes into your flock it will wipe out your flock, it's as simple as that," he said.

"It's up to people to observe the highest biosecurity standards that they have ever adopted on their commercial premises to avoid the spread of this."

It's "unlikely" avian flu will pose any threat to humans or other animals, Mr Poots added.

There have already been two culls but the associated costs have not yet been established.

"In terms of the ducks, it will be a significant bill," he said.

"We have a huge population of foul in Northern Ireland, very successful in terms of our commercial production of poultry meat and indeed eggs. We are receiving massive cooperation, people don't want this coming into their flock, it will never pay them to get avian bird flu because of the lost of business, the loss of trade, restocking."

The costs have the potential to run into "tens of millions" he said. "Whenever there's a crisis we have to find the money and that's the circumstance we find ourselves in," he said.

Responding on behalf of the Department of Finance, a Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) spokesman said: “DAERA will pay full market value for birds removed under direction of the Department for disease control purposes. If further funding is required during this current outbreak of avian influenza the Minister will seek the support of Executive colleagues if necessary.”

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