AT LEAST 60 herring gulls have been reported dead across Weymouth and Portland following a disease outbreak.

It is understood that the birds have most likely been dying due to a suspected outbreak of avian botulism.

According to the government's Animal and Plant Health Agency, avian botulism is a paralytic and often fatal disease caused by ingestion of toxin produced by bacteria found in rotting plant and animal material.

These outbreaks are frequent in this country but are more common during hot weather and can last for weeks, resulting in several hundreds of bird deaths.

Many of the dead gulls have been found in the swannery at Radipole Lake, near to the The Gurkha restaurant in Weymouth, where there is a build up of green algae – a possible source of the outbreak.

Algae blooms are said to occur naturally in hot weather and the swannery has been affected in previous years.

Bimlashar Gurung, manager of The Gurkha restaurant, said it is starting to affect her business: "Everyone is saying it is our fault but there is nothing we can do.

"I clean up the litter and all the rubbish that everyone leaves, sometimes when our bin is full I take it home myself, but we have been told that we are not allowed to touch the dead birds.

"Customers complain that it is hot inside because of the weather but we can't open the window because of the smell from the water and people don't want to sit outside anymore in the summer because they can see the dead birds.

"This is supposed to be our peak season and it is costing us money that the council is not cleaning this up. There is one dead bird that has been there for a week. I'm not happy with the council and I'm really upset. They need to take action."

She added: "We have been here 14 years and every summer it's a problem. Last week we took down four or five dead birds off the roof."

Although the area around The Gurkha restaurant is not part of the RSPB Radipole Lake nature reserve, staff there have tried to help find a solution to the problem.

Tony Whitehead, spokesperson for the RSPB said: “The RSPB has informed the Council Environmental Health team of the dead and dying birds on Radipole Lake. They are investigating the causes and bringing in a specialist team to remove dead birds. We have also contacted DEFRA, as is required when multiple bird deaths are found in one place.”

Weymouth wildlife conservationist Derek Davey believes that litter may be also causing some of the deaths.

He said: "We see cases of botulism poisoning every summer in herring gulls but this year has been far worse.

"At the weekend I was informed of over 60 birds dying in this way from sites all across Portland and Weymouth but the actual number of direct deaths is likely to be much higher.

“The paralytic symptoms in all gull casualties are identical and a clear indication of botulism poisoning.

"This could be from the algae or caused by food being thrown away in hot weather.

“I urge people if they are having a barbecue, picnic or take away to please dispose of any left food in the correct manner, and not just throw it on to the ground.”

Members of the public can report sightings of dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 or to the RSPCA on 0300 123 4999.

Cllr Ray Bryan, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for highway, travel and environment, said: “It is upsetting to see birds affected, however, the Environment Agency have advised that this incident was caused by avian botulism, not pollution.

"This is not transmissible to humans. Public Health England have confirmed there isn’t a risk to public health.

"Dorset Council have arranged for the lake to be cleared up, thank you to the public for reporting this, we hope no more birds will be affected.”