An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been declared across the whole of Britain following a number of detections of bird flu in wild birds recently.
The AIPZ means that from today, there is a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures as a way to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading.
Keepers with more than 500 birds will need to restrict access for non-essential people on their sites, the government said on Wednesday evening (3 November).
The introduction of the AIPZ comes just days after avian influenza was detected in captive birds at premises in Wales, England and Scotland.
The highly-pathogenic disease has also been recorded in wild birds at multiple sites across the country.
As part of the AIPZ, the government explained that workers will now need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures.
Site vehicles will also need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading, it added.
Avian influenza circulates naturally in wild birds and when they migrate to the UK from mainland Europe over the winter they can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.
The government said that backyard owners with smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese must also take steps to limit the risk of the disease spreading.
The UK health agencies advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the UK food standards agencies say it poses a very low food safety risk for consumers.
In a joint statement the Chief Veterinary Officers for Wales, England and Scotland said: "All bird keepers must take action now to prevent the disease spreading to poultry and other domestic birds.
“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now legally required to introduce higher biosecurity standards on your farm or small holding.
"It is in your interests to do so in order to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease," the CVOs explained.
“The UK health agencies have confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and UK food standards agencies advise that bird flu poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.”
The introduction of an AIPZ zone follows a government decision to raise the risk level for avian influenza incursion in wild birds in Britain from ‘medium’ to ‘high’.
For poultry and captive birds the risk level has been raised from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ at premises where biosecurity is below the required standards, but remains ‘low’ where stringent biosecurity measures are applied.
While the AIPZ does not include a requirement to house birds, the government said this was being kept under 'constant review'.
What does the prevention zone mean?
The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone means farmers and bird keepers across Great Britain must:
• Keep domestic ducks and geese separate from other poultry
• Ensure the areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds, for example by netting ponds, and by removing wild bird food sources
• Feed and water your birds in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds
• Minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures
• Clean and disinfect footwear and keep areas where birds live clean and tidy
• Reduce any existing contamination by cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off wet or boggy areas.
• Keep free ranging birds within fenced areas, and that ponds, watercourses and permanent standing water must be fenced off
Poultry keepers and members of the public have been told to report dead wild birds to Defra’s national dead wild bird helpline on 03459 33 55 77 (option 7).
Farmers and bird keepers should also report suspicion of disease to APHA on 03000 200 301.