Avian influenza – what you need to know

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Alarmingly, bird flu is on the rise – new laws apply to backyard poultry keepers too, says NFU county advisor Gemma Harvey

The 2021/22 winter season saw the worst outbreak of avian influenza, more commonly known as bird flu, that the UK has ever experienced, with more than 130 cases across the country.
In previous years, cases have gradually subsided as spring approached, with none reported over the summer months, but that was not the case this year.
Over the summer and on into the autumn, avian influenza persisted and a steady trickle of cases has continued. In recent weeks the number of confirmed cases has significantly increased.

Backyard chickens
Cases are not just confined to the commercial poultry sector – around half of the confirmed cases in winter 2021/22 were in backyard flocks.
In response to the rising number of cases, on Monday 17th October a nationwide avian influenza prevention zone came into force, meaning that it is now a legal requirement for all bird keepers in Great Britain to follow strict biosecurity measures to protect their flocks from the threat of infection.

How is bird flu spread?
Bird flu is spread by direct contact between birds and through contamination in the environment, for example in bird droppings. This means wild birds carrying the disease can infect domestic poultry, so the best way to reduce the risk of your poultry catching bird flu is to minimise the chance of them coming into contact with wild birds or their droppings, by practising good biosecurity and safety measures.
To help prevent the spread of the disease it is important to review the biosecurity measures that are currently in place in your flock.
The NFU has produced a helpful poster (opposite) to help you understand key areas to think about when it comes to protecting your birds. This in turn will protect not only your own flock but other backyard farmers – and support British poultry.

Poultry sector under pressure
NFU Poultry Board chairman James Mottershead says: ‘The sheer persistence of AI (avian influenza) over the past year, coupled with soaring energy and feed costs, has put the whole British poultry sector under huge emotional and financial pressure.’
To receive the latest news and advice should there be a Bird Flu outbreak, poultry keepers can sign up to the APHA poultry register. The NFU recommends that anyone with poultry or captive birds, no matter how many are in the flock, should register for free by clicking here or do so via the helpline on 03000 200 301.

If you suspect Avian Influenza in your flock, please contact your vet immediately.

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