FOLLOWING the confirmation of a number of cases of avian flu, the Government is bringing in further measures to protect both captive flocks and wild birds in the UK.

A total of six cases of the disease have now been confirmed in Great Britain in captive flocks and in excess of 140 findings of infected wild birds, across England and Wales.

The housing order brought in by the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales, which comes into force on December 14, is seen as an essential part of a revised Avian Influenza Protection Zone (AIPZ).

The new housing measures mean that it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.

Public health advice is that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not affect the consumption of poultry products including eggs.

These housing measures build on the strengthened biosecurity regulations that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Protection Zone (AIPZ) on November 11.

The AIPZ means that all poultry and captive bird keepers need to take extra precautions, such as cleaning and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles, limiting access to non-essential people on their sites, and workers changing clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures.

The recent cases of avian flu are a reminder that all poultry keepers should remain vigilant, particularly keepers of ‘backyard flocks’ in areas where they might easily mix with wild migratory birds, especially wildfowl.

Owners who have a flock of more than 50 birds must register the flock and keepers with fewer than 50 are being encouraged to register.

For keepers of gamebirds and other species such as geese, there is an acceptance that actual housing is impossible, not least as it has adverse welfare consequences. However, kept gamebirds can be roof netted or other arrangements made to keep wild birds away from them, such as covering feeders and drinkers within un-nettable pens and the use of crow bangers etc.

Given the latest outbreak, keepers of ‘backyard flocks’ should consider:

1 Housing birds or in some way keep them separate from wild birds;

2 Deterring wild birds, and consider creating a run outside the hen house;

3 Keeping feed and water either in the housing or in the run, but exclude wild birds;

4 Keep a careful eye on health and if in doubt, call the vet;

5 Control rodents;

6 Water is best provided from a purpose-made drinker, not from natural sources that might be shared with wild birds;

7 Practice biosecurity.

CLA North Director Dorothy Fairburn said: “This recent incidents of this disease and its devastating impact is a sharp reminder to all poultry keepers to instigate measures to minimise the risks to their flocks being infected. Avian flu is a notifiable disease, and we would strongly advise that suspected symptoms be reported to Defra or the Animal & Plant Health Agency.

"We would encourage early compliance with the housing order, and also for keepers of gamebirds and some other species such as geese to protect their flocks as appropriate.”

Signs of avian flu include loss of appetite, swollen heads, discolouration of neck and throat, diarrhoea and fewer eggs laid and respiratory problems.

Despite being a highly infectious and deadly disease in birds, the risks to human health are very low and bird flu does not pose a food safety risk.