As you may have seen on the national news and on our Facebook page DEFRA has announced a Prevention Zone due to outbreaks of a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza reported across Europe. This Prevention Zone has been in place since 6th December 2016, but as several cases have now been reported in the UK (Carmarthenshire, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire) it was initially extended to 28th February 2017 and has now been extended to 30th April 2017. Full information can be found on the Government website at www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu#prevention-zone.

The purpose of the Prevention Zone is to reduce the likelihood of captive birds being in contact with wild birds in an effort to reduce the risk of spread of disease. The instruction from DEFRA is that the Prevention Zone requires all poultry and captive birds, including backyard flocks and other captive birds to be housed or, where it is not practical to do so, requires steps to be taken to keep them separate from wild birds. They advise that if you usually keep your birds near your home, consider housing them in alternative accommodation, such as a garden building, a garage, or redundant building that could be adapted to your birds temporarily (remembering to check for; and remove, hazardous and toxic substances such as rat bait, and make sure birds have access to water and somewhere to perch). They also emphasise the importance of good biosecurity – for example, disinfecting footwear and equipment and washing clothes after contact with birds. The Chief Veterinary Officer has issued some advice for people with backyard poultry which can be found here. The disease is mainly spread via direct contact or contaminated faeces so these measures aim to reduce the likelihood of spread.

For our clients who may have small backyard flocks of poultry or other collections of outdoor birds some top tips include:

  • Keep the flock indoors if possible remembering to ensure good biosecurity but also provide for the bird’s welfare needs with a regular cleaning regime, providing additional items of interest for your flock, ensuring adequate ventilation etc.
  • Keep flock runs covered. Although mesh coverings will stop wild birds entering runs they will not stop contaminated faeces entering the runs. Consider erecting a solid lean-to on the side of existing houses (you could use fence panelling or adapting a fruit cage using tarpaulin). Creating temporary outdoor pens using straw bales and a tarpaulin roof with small gaps for light and ventilation is another option.
  • Keep moveable coops in the same place as moving to fresh ground will increase the risk of contact with wild bird faeces.
  • Keep your access to housing and run area to a minimum.
  • Keep your equipment clean using a disinfectant such as Virkon for equipment and footwear and washing clothing after contact with birds.
  • Keep food and water out of the reach of wild birds, ensuring it is kept covered.
  • Keep a close eye on your birds and seek veterinary advice if you see any signs of illness.

Symptoms of highly pathogenic avian influenza can include swollen head, blue discolouration of the neck and throat, loss of appetite, respiratory distress (such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling), diarrhoea, fewer eggs laid and increased mortality.

DEFRA are also asking members of the public to assist with surveillance of disease in wild birds by reporting dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or gulls, or five or more dead wild birds of other species in the same location, to the Defra helpline on 03459 335577.

UPDATE 7/2/17: DEFRA has launched an interactive map to help keepers of poultry and other captive birds aware of extra restrictions imposed where local cases of avian flu have been confirmed. It can be found at http://www.gisdiseasemap.defra.gov.uk/intmaps/avian/map.jsp

UPDATE 27/2/17: The Prevention Zone has been extended until 30th April 2017