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Avian Influenza Prevention Zone Update

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From the 18th of January 2018, following the discoveries of wild birds in both Dorset and Warwickshire infected with the H5N6 strain of avian influenza, a prevention zone has applied to everyone who keeps poultry or captive birds in England, and from the 25th of January 2018 a similar prevention zone has been in place in Wales. As yet – at least at the time of going to print – both Scotland and Northern Ireland are regarded as low risk, although it is recommended that all poultry keepers follow the strict recommendations on biosecurity, whether your flock is commercial or a handful of garden birds. Anyone finding dead wild birds should report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

THE PREVENTION ZONE

If you keep poultry within a designated prevention zone you must, by law, follow specific disease prevention measures. These apply to all keepers of birds, regardless of flock size, or if your birds are pets. They are designed to reduce the risk of infection from wild birds. Unlike in the 2017 prevention zones, you can continue to allow your birds outdoors into fenced areas, but only if these areas meet certain conditions. In order to comply you must:

  • Make the areas unattractive to wild birds, for example by netting ponds, and by removing any wild bird food sources.
  • Take action to reduce any existing contamination, such as cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off any wet or boggy areas.
  • Assess the risk of your captive birds coming into contact with wild birds or contamination from them.

Anyone with in excess of 500 birds must also put into practice further biosecurity measures. These include identifying clearly defined areas where access by non-essential people and vehicles is restricted, and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles, equipment and footwear. You can find full details of regularly updated requirements at gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu#latest-situation. All poultry keepers must, in addition, continue to follow all existing animal welfare rules. Defra continues to regard the risk of bird flu occurring in poultry in the UK as low, but only provided keepers maintain the proposed high standards of biosecurity.

BIOSECURITY

Good biosecurity improves the overall health and productivity of a flock by helping to keep out poultry diseases such as avian influenza, and limiting the spread of disease during an outbreak. This applies equally to those with just a few birds as pets and larger commercial flocks. An outbreak of bird flu among garden birds will result in precisely the same restrictions on the movement of birds, and will have the same impact on farmers and the poultry trade as an outbreak on a commercial farm. To ensure good biosecurity:

  • Minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures.
  • Keep areas where birds live clean and tidy, and regularly disinfect hard surfaces such as paths and walkways.
  • Humanely control rats and mice.
  • Place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly.
  • Keep birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around outdoor areas they access.
  • Keep a close watch on birds for any signs of disease and report any very sick birds or unexplained deaths to your vet.

Although the final two recommendations apply only to flocks of over 500 birds under the current prevention zones, they are also sound recommendations for all keepers.

  • Clean footwear before and after visiting birds using a Defra approved disinfectant at entrances and exits.
  • Clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment that have come into contact with poultry.

Defra is also encouraging all keepers to register their birds so you can be contacted quickly if there is a disease outbreak in your area and you need to take action. Any keeper with more than 50 birds is already legally required to register within one month of their arrival at the premises. You must also keep a close watch on your birds for signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from your vet if you have any concerns. If you suspect any type of avian influenza in your flock, report it immediately by calling 03000 200 301. Failure to do so is an offence. 

FURTHER INFORMATION

Simple advice for people keeping just a few birds is available on a poster available for download as a pdf at gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu#latest-situation. If you do keep a small number of birds, print it and keep it handy. A more detailed pdf is also available from the site for commercial keepers.

About the Author:

Paul Melnyczuk is editor of Home Farmer, and together with Ruth Tott is the founder of the company. His Ukrainian father and Austrian mother came over in the 1950s, and he was raised near Accrington (of Stanley fame) in Lancashire. With a degree in European Literature and a year spent living in Sweden, and a further 2 years in the Sudan, his background is rich and varied.

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