A country-wide bird flu ‘prevention zone’ has been declared amid the worst outbreak of the disease in the UK’s history.
Branded a “national emergency” by Scottish charities in August, the outbreak has seen more than 190 cases confirmed across the United Kingdom since October 2021.
More than 40 of these were confirmed just since the beginning of this month, leading to the declaration of an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across the UK this week.
Under the AIPZ, from 12pm on October 17, it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers in the country to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the threat of the flu.
The disease circulates naturally in wild birds and when they migrate to the United Kingdom from mainland Europe over the winter they can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.
Maintaining strict biosecurity is the most effective method of protecting birds from the virus.
Keepers with more than 500 birds will need to restrict access for non-essential people on their sites, workers will need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and site vehicles will need to be cleansed and disinfected regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading.
Backyard owners with smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese must also take steps to limit the risk of the disease spreading to their animals.
Public Health Scotland advises that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and Food Standards Scotland advises that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for consumers.
Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.
In a joint statement, the chief veterinary officers for England, Scotland and Wales said: “Bird keepers have faced the largest ever outbreak of avian flu this year and with winter brings an even more increased risk to flocks as migratory birds return to the United Kingdom.
“Scrupulous biosecurity and hygiene measures are the best form of defence, which is why we have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across Great Britain, meaning that all bird keepers must take action to help prevent the disease spreading to more poultry and other domestic birds.
“The introduction of an AIPZ means that 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 Avian Influenza Prevention Zone will be in place until further notice and will be kept under regular review as part of the government’s work to monitor and manage the risks of bird flu.
Dead wild birds may be infected, so people are asked not to touch them unless wearing suitable protective clothing.
When found on publicly owned land, the local authority will consider on a case by case basis the removal of carcases.
Poultry keepers and members of the public should consult latest guidance to check the threshold for reporting dead wild birds to Defra’s national GB helpline on 03459 335 577 and should not touch or pick them up.
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