16 August 2018 | Online since 2003


23 January 2018

Government raises avian influenza risk to poultry from Low to Medium


Defra has now increased the risk to poultry from exposure to wild birds in England to medium

The government has raised its avian influeza risk status for commercial poultry from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ following a new bird flu outbreak in wild birds.

The government has confirmed an avian influenza outbreak in wild birds at a nature reserve in Hertfordshire on 19 January.


It is the third such outbreak in recent weeks, following Warwickshire and Dorset.

In Hertfordshire, it has been confirmed an assemblage of dead wild birds was found and tested positive for the H5N6 strain. It is the same strain that has been circulating in wild birds across Europe in recent months.


Among the 20 dead, positive results were obtained from mallards, tufted ducks, greylag geese and a common gull.

Because of this, Defra has now increased the risk to poultry from exposure to wild birds in England to medium.

It says this level can be mitigated to low where strong biosecurity measures are in place.

As the source of infection for the three sites is highly likely to be wild birds from a site as yet not identified, the likelihood of finding another wild bird site in England and Wales is considered to be high.

Prevention zone

Last week, the government introduced an avian influenza prevention zone (AIPZ) across the whole of England after avian influenza was discovered in wild birds.

As a result of the order, poultry keepers will be required to maintain enhanced biosecurity measures.

These include feeding and watering birds indoors to minimise mixing with wild birds, minimising movement in and out of bird enclosures, cleaning and disinfecting footwear and keeping areas where birds live clean and tidy.

Keepers with more than 500 birds will also be required to take some extra bio-security measures, including restricting access to non-essential people, changing clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles.

Defra says that these measures will be in place until further notice and will be kept under regular review as part of the department's work monitoring the threat of AI.

Defra said the Dorset case was the first in the United Kingdom this winter, although it said it expected more over the coming days - an expectation that has been fulfilled.

'Vigilant'

Even before the winter period arrived, the UK's Chief Vet Nigel Gibbens had warned that it was only a matter of time before the UK saw another case of AI in the UK.

“As the virus has been circulating across Europe, this finding has not come as a surprise,” he said last week.

“But it is vital that anyone who keeps birds - whether a few in a back garden or thousands on a farm - is vigilant for any signs of disease, reports suspect disease to APHA and maintains good bio-security to reduce the risk of their birds becoming infected.”

Farmers will not be required to house their birds. Last winter, housing orders in the UK and other parts of the EU in response to AI outbreaks threatened the livelihoods of free range egg producers.

Under EU law at the time, free range birds could only be housed for 12 weeks before losing their free range status - leading to significant financial losses for farmers.

The European Commission has now extended this derogation to 16 weeks. Even if housing orders were now put in place, the extended derogation would last beyond the danger period for bird flu.

Last winter housing orders in the UK and other parts of the EU in response to AI outbreaks threatened the livelihoods of free range egg producers. Under EU law at the time, free range birds could only be housed for 12 weeks before losing their free range status - leading to significant financial losses for farmers.

The European Commission has now extended this derogation to 16 weeks. Even if housing orders were now put in place, the extended derogation would now last beyond the danger period.

Strict biosecurity

All poultry keepers in England are now being urged to adhere to detailed requirements on strict biosecurity, whether they have commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock.

This means it will be mandatory for all captive bird keepers in England to put enhanced biosecurity measures in place, which include:

• Minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures
• 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
• 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

Poultry keepers and members of the public should report dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 and bird keepers should report suspicion of disease to APHA on 03000 200 301.

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