Legal requirement for birdkeepers to keep birds indoors extended across England

Legal requirements for birdkeepers to house the creatures indoors are to be extended to all areas of England amid the UK’s largest ever outbreak of avian influenza.

The mandatory housing measures for all poultry and captive birds are to be introduced across England from midnight on November 7.

There have been more than 200 cases of avian influenza – also known as bird flu – confirmed in the UK since late October 2021.

The disease has been detected at more than 70 premises since the beginning of October, as well as multiple reports in wild birds.

The latest announcement comes following a decision by the chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss, who is encouraging all birdkeepers to use this week to prepare, including taking steps to safeguard animal welfare, consulting their private vet and expanding housing where necessary.

Earlier in October, mandatory housing measures were introduced in what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) described as “hot spot” areas of Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex.

Dr Middlemiss said the decision to extend the measure across the country was not taken lightly “but is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease”.

The UK Health Security Agency has advised that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advice remains unchanged, stating that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

Dr Middlemiss said: “We are now facing this year, the largest ever outbreak of bird flu and are seeing rapid escalation in the number of cases on commercial farms and in backyard birds across England.

“The risk of kept birds being exposed to disease has reached a point where it is now necessary for all birds to be housed until further notice.

“Scrupulous biosecurity and separating flocks in all ways, from wild birds remain the best form of defence.

“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from Monday 7 November onwards you must keep yours indoors. This decision has not been taken lightly, but is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

Defra said that housing birds, combined with stringent biosecurity measures can provide greater reduction in risk.

Birdkeepers have been advised to report suspicion of disease in their birds to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on 03000 200 301.

Bird flu outbreak
A tractor passes a sign near Eccles in Norfolk, as all of Norfolk and Suffolk, and parts of Essex, became the latest areas to be placed in an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) (Joe Giddens/PA)

A Welsh Government spokesman said mandatory housing of poultry would not be introduced in Wales at this stage.

The spokesman said: “We will continue to monitor the situation in Wales. All keepers must keep their birds safe by rigorously applying the biosecurity measures in the Wales avian influenza prevention zone, and be vigilant for signs of the disease.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are keeping the situation under constant review, however the current evidence does not yet justify imposing a housing order in Scotland.”

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has also been contacted for an update.

As of October 17, birdkeepers in Northern Ireland have had to follow strict biosecurity measures after an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was declared.