Biosecurity bolstered to fights ‘highly infectious virus’

Wild bird deaths in Warwickshire and Dorset have prompted Defra to set up an England-wide bird flu prevention zone. 

All England-based bird-keepers must follow stepped-up biosecurity measures, after 44 wild birds found in two counties more than 100 miles apart were confirmed to carry the bird flu virus.

Defra has put in place a bird flu prevention zone covering the whole of England to stop the disease from affecting commercial poultry farms. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not reported any bird flu outbreaks and are not subject to the government’s virus fortification plan.

“Following the latest finding of bird flu in wild birds in Warwickshire, we are extending our action to help prevent the virus spreading to poultry and other domestic birds,” said Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens.

“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now legally required to meet enhanced biosecurity requirements and this is in your interests to do, to protect your birds from this highly infectious virus.”

Robert Gooch, chief executive of The British Free Range Egg Producers Association, added: “We welcome the move from Defra to heighten biosecurity in light of the further discovery of avian influenza.
It’s vital that all poultry-keepers – including small backyard flocks – follow the guidance that has been issued today, so that all flocks are protected.”

Defra’s avian influenza prevention zone means requires England bird-keepers to: ensure areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds; feed and water birds in enclosed areas; reduce movement in and out of bird enclosures; clean and disinfect footwear; regularly clean areas where birds are kept; reduce contamination by cleaning and disinfecting concrete areas; and fence off wet or boggy land.

Keepers of more than 500 birds must take extra biosecurity measures: restrict coop access to non-essential people; change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures; and clean and disinfect vehicles.

Tighter biosecurity measures follow the deaths of 13 avian influenza-infected wild birds in Warwickshire. While tests are incomplete, Defra claim it’s “highly likely” that the birds could have carried the H5N6 strain that has been circulating in Europe.

Detection in Warwickshire comes after 31 wild birds in Dorset were found to be carrying the highly infectious bird flu virus.

The Food Standards Agency has said that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk. Public Health England says the risk to human health is “very low”.

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