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Collaboration between shoots can prevent disease outbreaks

Kenny Nutting BVetMed MRCVS

Many shoots I visit are counting down the days until the frosts arrive and birds flock home for their feed and shelter, close to cover crops and woodlands provided for them. Whilst this is great for shooting particular drives, it does however create a micro-population increase of stocking.

Within these micro-populations the birds are in close proximity and the risks of catching one another’s germs increases significantly. Alongside this, birds have to cope with changing body thermodynamics at this time of year, as suddenly they must use a lot more energy to sustain their internal body temperatures as the external temperatures plummet. As a result of this, I have been spending significant amounts of time driving around shoots and speaking to keepers who are worried about birds displaying a “cough and a sneeze” – much like the common cold.

Last month we talked about Mycoplasma and its disease characteristics, covering the basics of how to help prevent the entry and transmission of the disease. Below I will discuss a recent case and highlight the need for group co-operation when dealing with a respiratory “syndrome”.

A case study

Recently, a shoot under my care who were 4-6 weeks post-release rung me to discuss a few “coughing and sneezing” symptoms (“a bit like gapes”) that they were seeing around their drives. A colleague and I visited the site after a few days of monitoring the symptoms which seemed to be getting slowly, but progressively, worse.

After post-mortems were completed, we discussed the likelihood of a virus such as TRT or a bacteria such as ORT as the cause. Often both of these will go through birds over a 2 week period and the birds recover. Of course the big worry was Mycoplasma getting into the birds and taking advantage of the situation, and unfortunately, it did.

In order to protect the biosecurity of the area, I contacted 3 major neighbouring shoots that are also under my care to do as much as we could to contain the problem, but within a 3 week period almost three quarters of the shoots were affected with the same symptoms. What this incident has highlighted to the keepers and the estate owners and managers however, is the need to work together to reduce and prevent further disruption and problems in later seasons. Shooting is the major income for these estates and helps to maintain and improve them.

Without the shoots many of the estates would not be in the condition they are now, and therefore it is imperative that we do everything that we can in order to preserve their existence. For this group we have decided to meet with all of the estate owners, managers and keepers to plan an in-depth investigation into the extent of the symptoms that we have seen, and to develop and implement a 3 year action plan in the area. This is a similar concept to the 3 other groups of shoots we are working with.

Working groups are key to a healthy shooting industry

Once a solid working group of shoots is formed, we have seen many other benefits from this level of collaboration such as: focused efforts to help endangered populations of butterflies, wild orchids and birds, as well as working together on forestry efforts and cover crop effects. These working groups are essential to help maintain the health of our industry. We have also seen these groups becoming full members of the British Game Alliance and some are being assessed by the GWCT which brings added benefits too.

Myself and colleagues have now been running working groups such as those mentioned above for a few years now, and have gained a lot of experience and understanding in how these best work and aims that can be set and achieved. If we can be of help, or if this is something that interests you, then please feel free to get in touch to discuss this further.