Holidaymakers have been warned not to touch dead birds on Welsh beaches during the summer months as concern over a bird flu outbreak grows.
Reports of bird carcasses stranded on the West and North Wales coasts have increased in recent weeks as the disease continues to affect wild bird colonies across the UK.
Welsh Climate Change Minister Julie James said the situation was “heartbreaking” and asked people to heed advice not to pick up dead or visibly sick birds, to prevent dogs from coming into contact with them and to report sightings.
She visited islands off the Pembrokeshire coast alongside wildlife charity RSPB to assess what could be done.
Ramsey and Grassholm, where the minister sailed on Thursday, are home to some of the largest gannet colonies in the world, with guillemots, Manx shearwaters, razorbills and peregrine falcons also nesting on their shores.
RSPB Cymru said birds suspected of having the disease are spotted there daily.
Last week, the charity said common and Arctic terns, gulls and Atlantic puffins were found dead floating in the waters around Skerries and Rhosneigr Islands, off Anglesey, North Wales.
The Welsh Government has set up a Seabird Emergency Response Group which meets weekly.
Bird flu is described as highly pathogenic and can be spread through sneezing, faeces, standing in still water and birds of prey or opportunistic scavengers chasing contaminated carcasses.
Seabirds tend to live in dense colonies and raise only one chick per year.
This allows the disease to spread through populations and move between colonies while making it harder for the species to bounce back.
Ms James said it was important people did not help spread the disease further.
“It is heartbreaking to see our fascinating wild birds fall victim to such a terrible disease,” she said.
“I ask everyone in Wales to consider their impact on the environment and also heed the advice – do not pick up sick or dead birds and keep dogs on a lead to avoid contact.
“Instead, report them to Defra immediately on the gov.uk website or by calling 03459 335577.”
The minister added: “We are very worried because no one has any means to fight it yet, so we must lead a global campaign to fight against it.
“But one of the real points of hope is that there are clearly birds that have recovered.
“So the RSPB and scientists around the world will be working to see if they can isolate any immunity from the recovered birds.”
Arfon Williams, from RSPB Cymru, said: “The impact of bird flu on seabird populations has been devastating. It increases pressure on fragile populations and adds to the ever-increasing urgency of seabird conservation.
“Unfortunately, bird flu is not the only challenge facing seabirds in Wales.
“The impact of climate change and human activities at sea also requires urgent efforts to increase the resilience of seabirds, whether through marine planning, biosecurity and fisheries management.”
In October, the Welsh Government introduced an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone which required poultry farmers in Wales to comply with strict biosecurity measures to prevent the interaction and possible transmission of infection from wild birds.
The measures were lifted on July 4 but poultry farmers are still encouraged to maintain strict biosecurity measures all year round.