With a total of 6 confirmed cases in Great Britain in captive flocks, and in excess of 140 findings of infected wild birds, widely spaced across England and Wales, it was felt that a housing order, which comes into force on 14 December, was essential as part of a revised Avian Influenza Protection Zone (AIPZ).

The new housing measures mean that it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.

Public health advice is that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not affect the consumption of poultry products including eggs.

Government Chief Veterinary Officers are encouraging bird keepers to use the next 11 days to prepare for new housing measures, including taking steps to safeguard animal welfare, consult their vet and where necessary put up additional housing.

These housing measures build on the strengthened biosecurity regulations that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Protection Zone (AIPZ) on 11 November. The AIPZ means that all poultry and captive bird keepers need to take extra precautions, such as cleaning and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles, limiting access to non-essential people on their sites, and workers changing clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures.

The recent cases of Avian Flu is a reminder that all poultry keepers should remain vigilant, particularly keepers of ‘backyard flocks’ in areas where they might easily mix with wild migratory birds, especially wildfowl. With the colder weather there is an increased risk from avian influenza in the UK from migrating wild birds (which might infect domestic poultry).

Owners who has a flock numbering more than fifty birds must register the flock. Even keepers with fewer than fifty are encouraged to register.

For keepers of gamebirds and other species such as geese, there is an acceptance that actual housing is impossible, not least as it has adverse welfare consequences. However, kept gamebirds can be roof netted or other arrangements made to keep wild birds away from them (eg. covering feeders and drinkers within un-nettable pens and the use of crow bangers etc).

Given the latest outbreak, keepers of ‘backyard flocks’ should consider:

• Housing birds or in some way keep them separate from wild birds.
• Deterring wild birds, and consider creating a run outside the hen house.
• Keeping feed and water either in the housing or in the run, but exclude wild birds.
• Keep a careful eye on health and if in doubt, call the vet.
• Control rodents.
• Water is best provided from a purpose-made drinker, not from natural sources that might be shared with wild birds.
• Practice biosecurity.

CLA North Director Dorothy Fairburn said: “This recent incidents of this disease and its devastating impact is a sharp reminder to all poultry keepers to instigate measures to minimise the risks to their flocks being infected. Avian flu is a notifiable disease, and we would strongly advise that suspected symptoms be reported to Defra or the Animal & Plant Health Agency.”

”We would encourage early compliance with the housing order, and also for keepers of gamebirds and some other species such as geese to protect their flocks as appropriate.”

Signs of avian flu include loss of appetite, swollen heads, discolouration of neck and throat, diarrhoea and fewer eggs laid and respiratory problems.

Despite being a highly infectious and deadly disease in birds, the risks to human health are very low and bird flu does not pose a food safety risk.