CASES of bird flu have been confirmed in swans at a popular tourist attraction.

It has been confirmed to the Echo that nine cases have been confirmed of avian influenza, otherwise known as bird flu, at the Abbotsbury Swannery.

The attraction is currently closed for the winter with access to the site restricted to staff members only.

Abbotsbury Tourism general manager John Houston said that the welfare of the birds and of staff is the top priority.

He said: “Cases of avian flu have been reported in wild birds in Europe and in a number of locations across the UK.

“The current H5N8 strain of bird flu is of very low risk to public health and has never transferred to humans, but the wellbeing of the swans and other birds that visit the swannery is paramount. The swannery is currently closed to the public for the winter and is not due to reopen until March. Current access to the site is therefore restricted to staff members only.

“We are closely monitoring the health of the swans and our staff are taking all necessary precautionary measures as advised.”

Last month members of the public were being urged to report findings of dead wild birds after three tested positive for avian flu around the country.

Experts have said that the threat to public health from the virus is very low.

It has also now been confirmed to the Echo that 80 swans have died at the swannery since mid-December, double the usual number.

However, it cannot be confirmed that this is linked to bird flu. 

Defra is also no longer carrying out tests for bird flu at the swannery as the case has been confirmed there. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that the swannery has been affected by bird flu. It was hit in January 2008 when restrictions were put in place after a number of dead birds were found to have tested positive for the H5N1 strain of the virus.

A prevention zone is currently in place and has been extended until the end of February 2017, which requires keepers of poultry and other captive birds to keep them inside or take appropriate steps to keep them separate, and protect them, from wild birds.

A ban is in place on events involving gatherings of poultry including chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, such as auctions and livestock fairs across England, Scott and Wales to prevent the spread of the disease.

A charity has also announced that it is has been forced let 12,000 hens go to slaughter, including some that were set to be re-homed in Dorset.

The British Hen Welfare Trust re-homes commercial laying hens and encourages support for British free range eggs.

As it is now illegal to hold any poultry gathering or to allow hens to be free range 12,000 hens which were due to be collected by it in December, January and February have gone to slaughter.

Some of the hens were set to be re-homed in Sturminster Newton.

Jane Howarth MBE, the charity’s founder, said it was a “difficult time” but that it “prided itself on acting responsibly”.