bird flu

The UK’s chief vets have warned returning migratory birds could bring more disease

The government has reimposed nationwide bird flu restrictions across Great Britain after what it said was ”an increase in the number of detections” of infection.

In a statement, Defra announced that the chief veterinary officers of England, Scotland and Wales had “declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across Great Britain to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading amongst poultry and captive birds”.

The measures came into force at midday on Monday, with the vets warning hat as migratory birds returned to the island for winter, there could be ”even more increased risk to flocks”.

The AIPZ meant a legal requirement for all bird keepers in Great Britain to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from avian flu.

Edwin Poots, agriculture minister in Northern Ireland’s devolved government, subsequently announced measures “in line” with the restrictions being put in place in England, Scotland and Wales.

The reintroduction of the restrictions ame after 30 new cases of bird flu were reported since the start of the month, with 190 cases across the UK since last October, Defra said.

Outbreaks were being reported “on a daily basis”, according to the NFU, which listed five new cases on Sunday.

However, the measures fell short of a nationwide housing order – something both the British Poultry Council and British Egg Industry Council called for last week after Defra introduced regional housing measures in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex.

Robert Gooch, the CEO of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, described the prevention zone expansion as ”the right thing to do”.  BEIC CEO Mark Williams on Monday recommended that the government ”go further and act quickly to take the inevitable, sensible step of issuing a national housing order”.

Defra said the need for such an order was being kept “under constant review”. Birds had to be housed nationally from November last year until May, with an estimated three million culled as part of disease prevention measures.

The government department said its new rules required keepers with more than 500 birds “to restrict access for non-essential people on their sites”, with workers having to “to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures” and site vehicles needing to cleaned “and disinfected regularly”.

Keepers with “smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese” would also need to “limit the risk of the disease spreading to their animals”, Defra said. 

“Regardless of whether you keep a few birds or thousands, you are legally required to meet enhanced biosecurity requirements to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease,” the chief vets said.

The measures followed the raising of the risk level for avian influenza incursion in wild birds in Great Britain from ‘medium’ to ‘high’. For poultry and captive birds the risk level has been raised from ‘medium’ to ‘high’ at premises where biosecurity is below the required standards, and from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ where stringent biosecurity measures are applied.