Poultry keepers have been urged to take action to reduce the risk of Avian Influenza (AI) over the winter.
The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officers (CVO) put out a warning following circulation of the H5N8 strain in other parts of the world, suggesting the colder weather was increasing the risk of flu from migrating birds.
Last winter, the H5N6 strain of bird flu was only detected in wild birds and there were no outbreaks in domestic birds, either in commercial or smallholdings.
And although there have been no findings in the UK since June 2018, the virus is still circulating in wild birds in North Europe, including Denmark and Germany.
A joint statement from the UK’s CVOs said: “It is critical that all keepers of poultry, including game birds and pet birds, act now to reduce the risk of transmission of avian flu to their flocks.
“Good biosecurity should be maintained at all times, including regularly cleaning and disinfecting the area where you keep birds and separating them from wild birds wherever possible.
“Keepers should also ensure they register on the Great Britain Poultry Register (GBPR) and we are pleased that new forms are now in place to simplify this process.”
The biosecurity measures were particularly important for keepers in Higher Risk Areas (HRAs), Defra said.
But the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) said Defra had relaxed some of its HRAs and in the event of a compulsory housing order for free-range hens would ‘like to see a regional or ‘all-in all-out’ policy adopted, rather than creating a situation where producers in HRAs are forced to house hens while nearby units outside a HRA remain unaffected’.
BFREPA chief executive Robert Gooch said: “An outbreak is capable of decimating a poultry business overnight.
“It is likely fewer free-range egg producers now fall inside HRAs, which are something of a postcode lottery for businesses.
“Defra has indicated that in the event of an AI Prevention Zone being implemented, a housing order will not be automatically targeted at HRAs, and we will hold them to that.”
It is a legal requirement for keepers with 50 or more birds to register on the GBPR, whilst keepers in Northern Ireland must register their birds on the DAERA Bird Register, which can now be completed and submitted online.
Anyone who finds dead wild birds should report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.