Largest-ever avian flu outbreak in UK sees prevention zone put in place to protect wild birds and poultry
An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been introduced across the UK requiring all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures to protect their flock and mitigate the risk of the disease spreading amongst poultry and captive birds.
It comes in the midst of the largest-ever outbreak of avian flu in the UK, with 190 confirmed cases in wild birds and on commercial premises since October 2021. There were 30 cases in the first two weeks of October 2022, with the East of England and the South West particularly badly affected.
Keepers with 500 or more birds are legally required to restrict access for non-essential people on site, and workers must change their clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures. Site vehicles also need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly, as this is seen as the most effective way to reduce the risk of disease spreading.
Backyard owners with a smaller number of poultry, including chickens, ducks and geese, must also take precautions.
Avian flu circulates naturally in wild birds that migrate from mainland Europe to the UK over the winter and there are many strains, but the current outbreak is highly pathogenic.
“[All bird owners] are legally required to meet enhanced biosecurity requirements to protect birds from this highly infectious disease.”
In a joint statement, the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales said: “Scrupulous biosecurity and hygiene measures are the best forms 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 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 UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) states that avian flu represents very little risk to the public as the bird-to-human transmission is very rare. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises it is a low food safety risk, meaning it is safe to eat properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs.
The AIPZ will remain in place and be reviewed regularly, to protect as many birds as possible.
“The current outbreak is thought to be the worst ever in the UK, and has been particularly damaging for our internationally important seabird colonies such as gannets,” said Joan Edwards, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts.
“We need to see the government take a new approach to producing food that farms in harmony with nature instead of harming it,” added Edwards. “It’s also vital that we see stronger leadership on helping wild birds recover in a range of policy decisions this autumn – the government has been slow to respond. Entire UK populations of seabirds are at risk of being lost.”