Belfast’s Window on Wildlife (WOW) nature reserve, which is home to birds and wildlife from all over the world, has been closed “due to an outbreak of bird flu”.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB NI) confirmed that its reserve at Belfast WOW was closed to the public, as a result of the outbreak of avian influenza (bird flu), until further notice.

The RSPB said that “current scientific guidance is being followed” and it would provide an update when more information was available.

It also confirmed that it was the society’s policy to leave dead or dying birds on the ground because handling these birds is a “health risk”.

“Unless there is a significant public health risk we are leaving them.

“Removing dead birds can cause disturbance and unnecessary flight among infected birds.

“This takes energy the birds need to be more resilient to the disease and can also spread the disease further,” the RSPB stated.

The society has also stressed that the risk to humans from bird flu is rare and “very low”.

According to the RSPB there is limited evidence on the spread within or to other species from leaving dead birds.

“We are basing decisions on the risk to the species, to other species and to the people who might remove them.

“This is a difficult balancing act and we are keeping the situation under review,” it added.

The outbreak of bird flu at the Belfast nature reserve emerged shortly after the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland had lifted the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) and the ban on poultry gatherings that had been in force across Northern Ireland – both expired on Friday, June 2.

Meanwhile the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) also confirmed that the legal requirement for specific biosecurity measures to mitigate the spread of avian influenza (bird flu) had been lifted on June 1, 2023.

The department said: “The decision to remove these measures is based on indicators of reduced risk of avian influenza – including the fact that no case of this disease has been confirmed in wild birds in Ireland for a period of over six weeks.”

However DAFM had warned flock owners to remain vigilant because there was still the possibility of “the virus being present in the environment or being transmitted to their flock by wild birds”.