The chief vets from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England have come together to release a statement about the threat of avian flu to poultry keepers over the coming winter months.

The UK is currently free of avian flu, but highly pathogenic avian influenza is causing outbreaks in Russia and Kazakhstan, and as winter approaches the risk of migratory wild birds infecting domestic poultry will rise. It is therefore very important that poultry farmers and pet bird keepers take action to improve biosecurity.

The risk of avian flu has been upgraded to "medium" in the UK following outbreaks in mainland Europe.

Following two confirmed cases of H5N8 avian influenza in the Netherlands, we have raised the risk level for incursion to the UK from migratory birds to medium ahead of the winter migration season. The risk of the disease being introduced to poultry farms in the UK remains low.

"We are monitoring the situation carefully and bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspected disease immediately and ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises."

There are some simple measures that all poultry keepers, whether they are running a large commercial farm, keeping a few hens in their back garden, or rearing game birds, should take to protect their birds against the threat of avian flu in the coming winter months.

These include:

  • Keeping the area where birds live clean and tidy, controlling rats and mice and regularly cleansing and disinfecting any hard surfaces;
  • Cleaning footwear before and after visits;
  • Placing birds’ feed and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds, and removing any spilled feed regularly;
  • Putting fencing around outdoor areas where birds are allowed and limiting their access to ponds or areas visited by wild waterfowl;
  • Where possible, avoid keeping ducks and geese with other poultry species.