The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is urging bird keepers to be extra cautious and to heighten biosecurity due to an increasing risk of avian influenza (bird flu) in Northern Ireland.

UFU policy manager James McCluggage said the risk of bird flu has risen “greatly” following the detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) recently in samples of dead black-headed gulls.

These samples were found at four locations across Northern Ireland – Belfast Harbour, Comber, Coalisland and Magherafelt – the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) confirmed last week (Friday, June 9).

In light of these outbreaks, DAERA vets updated the Veterinary Risk Assessment to reflect an “increasing likelihood of incursion into kept flocks, albeit with a high level of uncertainty, in consideration of the relatively limited number of reports”.

Coinciding with the update, Northern Ireland’s chief vet Dr. Robert Huey urged vigilance among bird keepers.

Echoing that sentiment today (Tuesday, June 13), McCluggage said:

“Due to the increased risk of avian influenza, extra attention needs to be given to cleaning and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles.

“It’s hugely important that ponds or standing water is fenced of and wild bird deterrents are reintroduced. Access should be limited to essential visitors only on site, and workers need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures.”

Good biosecurity, he said, is the “only way to protect their flock and the entire poultry sector from infection”.

He also urged ruminant livestock farmers to be cautious of infected birds.

“Ruminant livestock farmers also need to be cautious of infected birds,” he said.

“Bird carcasses have been known to cause and spread botulism which can be fatal if contracted by cattle or sheep.”

To any and all farmers that find dead waterfowl or other dead wild birds on their land, particularly birds of prey, McCluggage said to contact DAERA.

“Reporting bird carcasses to DAERA is critical to disease surveillance and preventing the infection from spreading any further,” he said.