The risk level of avian influenza establishing in wild birds in Britain has been raised from ‘medium to ‘high’ following confirmation of two unrelated cases in England this week and increasing reports of the disease in mainland Europe.

The chief vets from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are urging bird keepers to maintain and strengthen their farm biosecurity measures in order to prevent further outbreaks of avian influenza in the UK.

The status change applies to wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales, with the risk of infection to poultry also being raised from ‘low’ to ‘medium’.

Northern Ireland’s risk of avian influenza incursion remains medium for wild birds and low for poultry, but is being kept under review.

Earlier today, it was announced cases at a commercial holding in Cheshire were identified as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza strain H5N8.

The case at the smallholding in Kent identified on Tuesday (November 3) has been confirmed to be Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza strain H5N2.

A total of 14,000 birds will have to be culled between the two farms to limit the spread. Temporary movement restrictions have also been put in place for all flocks and captive birds within 1km of the farm in Deal, Kent, and 3km of the farm in Frodsham, Cheshire.

All bird keepers across the UK are also being urged to prevent direct or indirect contact with wild birds as wild birds migrating to the UK from mainland Europe can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.

A statement from the UK’s four chief veterinary officers said: “Following two confirmed cases of avian influenza in England and further cases reported in mainland Europe, we have raised the risk level for incursion to Great Britain from migratory birds to high.

“We have also raised the risk level for the disease being introduced to poultry farms in Great Britain to medium.

“While Northern Ireland’s risk level is currently medium for wild birds and low for poultry, the situation is being kept under constant review.

We have acted quickly to prevent the spread of disease at both sites in England and are continuing to monitor the situation closely.

“Bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease and report suspected disease immediately.

“It is important now more than ever that bird keepers ensure they are doing all they can to maintain and strengthen good biosecurity on their premises to ensure we prevent further outbreaks.”

Take action

The government advises all bird keepers take simple measures to protect their birds against the threat of avian flu, whether they are running a large commercial farm, keeping a few hens in their back garden, or rearing game birds.

These include:

  • Keep the area where birds live clean and tidy, control rats and mice and regularly cleanse and disinfect any hard surfaces;
  • Clean footwear before and after visits;
  • Place birds’ feed and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly;
  • Putting fencing around outdoor areas where birds are allowed and limit their access to ponds or areas visited by wild waterfowl;
  • Where possible, avoid keeping ducks and geese with other poultry species.

The UK government has said it will continue to monitor for incursions of avian flu and is working with the poultry and game bird industries, hen rehoming, and pure and traditional poultry breeds stakeholders to help reduce the risk of disease.