The latest on avian influenza

The latest on the avian influenza situation following the introduction of mandatory housing orders for all poultry and captive birds in England

*Latest update: 8 November 2022*

As avian influenza cases continue to increase, with 97 confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 in England since 1 October, the government has introduced mandatory national housing measures for all poultry and captive birds in all areas of England from 7 November.

The order legally requires 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.

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone without housing measures remains in place in Wales.

The government has also confirmed that compensation would be paid to farmers affected at the outset of planned culling rather than at the end.

Cameron Hughes writes about avian influenza

Avian influenza has become an annual issue UK poultry keepers have had to contend with in recent years. This has been particularly evident during the winter months, where a spike in cases has correlated with migrations of disease-carrying birds wintering in the UK, and cooler temperatures which enable the disease to thrive.

While these seasonal outbreaks have been largely manageable, last winter’s outbreak was the most severe on record. This lead to the culling of almost three million birds, as the Animal and Plant Health Agency attempted to control the spread of the disease. This has had a devastating impact on many poultry centred businesses, including those rearing poultry for the food chain, egg producers and has also had an impact on those rearing game.

CLA activity

The CLA has continued to represent the interests of impacted members. We have regular calls with the Defra Exotic Notifiable Avian Disease Team and have also fed back member concerns to the APHA in May as part of their ‘lessons learned’ project following the 2021/22 outbreak. We wrote to the Farming Minister on the 18th October outlining our concerns regarding the winter months ahead and the urgent need for adequate resourcing for APHA. We also keep in regular contact with other impacted stakeholders, such as the British Poultry Council.

Advice for CLA members

The current strain of avian influenza is highly pathogenic, highly contagious and is often fatal in birds. To limit the spread of the disease, good biosecurity is vital. On 17 October, an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (APIZ) came into force across Great Britain, which imposes a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures. It applied to all bird keepers, whether they keep birds commercially or as pets. There is more guidance on the biosecurity measures here as well as access to the slides from Defra’s ‘Stop the Spread’ webinars for different kinds of poultry keepers here. Having a robust biosecurity policy is also now a mandatory requirement being made by insurers.

On 7 November, the government introduced a mandatory housing order in England. All bird keepers are required to shut their birds indoors to prevent access by wild birds and to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from avian influenza, regardless of type of bird or numbers kept. Evidence shows that housing birds reduces the risk of kept birds being infected with avian influenza. However, housing alone will not fully protect birds and all keepers must still follow the other enhanced biosecurity measures mandated by the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) at all times to protect their flocks and prevent the risk of future outbreaks which is circulating in wild birds.

Members keeping poultry should be vigilant, keeping a close eye on their birds for signs of disease, which include lethargy, unresponsiveness and a sudden and rapid increase in the number of birds found dead. A further list of clinical signs is available here. Members should report signs of the disease to the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. Failure to do so is an offence.

To ensure you are kept up with developments, we strongly recommend that all poultry keeping members subscribe to the APHA email alerts here.

The spread of avian influenza is also having an impact on the game shooting community and British Game Assurance have produced this helpful Q and A.