Bird flu forces flocks inside again

In the wake of another Avian Flu outbreak, a national housing order will be introduced across England on Monday, meaning flocks of poultry and captive birds must be kept inside.

The measures legally require all bird keepers to keep their birds indoors and to follow stringent biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the disease, regardless of type or size.

The order will extend the mandatory housing measures already in force in the hot spot area of Suffolk, Norfolk and parts of Essex to the whole of England following an increase in the national risk of bird flu in wild birds to very high.

Over the last year, the United Kingdom has faced its biggest ever outbreak of avian influenza, with over 200 cases confirmed since late October 2021.

The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, said: “We are now facing the largest ever outbreak of bird flu and are seeing rapid escalation in the number of cases on commercial farms and in backyard birds across England.

“The risk of kept birds being exposed to disease has reached a point where it is now necessary for all birds to be housed until further notice.

“Scrupulous biosecurity and separating flocks in all ways, from wild birds remain the best form of defence. Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from Monday onwards you must keep your indoors. This decision has not been taken lightly but is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

The UK Health Security Agency says the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advice remains unchanged, that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

In September, just prior to the start of the game season, it was reported that a number of pheasants in Norfolk, Cheshire and Cornwall had tested positive for Avian Flu.

Dominic Boulton from the Game Farmers’ Association – a partner organisation of Aim to Sustain – said: “We are aware of a small number of isolated cases where released pheasants appear to have become infected with Avian Influenza.

“All the available evidence points to these infections being spread by seagulls. Thanks to the vigilance of gamekeepers, strict bio security and support from the gamebird veterinary community, these infections have been prevented from spreading and have not resulted in any significant impact on the populations of other wild birds local to them.”

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