The UK poultry sector will be preparing to face a “similar outbreak” of avian influenza (bird flu) this autumn, following the country’s biggest ever outbreak last year.

This is according to the chief executive of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA), Robert Gooch.

Gooch said the outbreak, which has seen 199 cases of the disease confirmed in the UK since October 1, last year, has reduced confidence in free-range production which he said is “particularly susceptible to bird flu”.

The chief executive added that more support could, and can be given to poultry and egg producers to help them keep their businesses alive during outbreaks of the disease.

“We are arguing for compensation for culled birds to be calculated at confirmation of disease, not at the start of culling or after confirmation,” he said.

In terms of disease prevention, Gooch said producers can only focus on small steps to safeguard their flocks this autumn, as long-term solutions will not be available this year.

“We are looking at vaccination in the long term, but it won’t happen this autumn,” he said.

“All producers can do is maintain the highest level of biosecurity to prevent direct or indirect infection from wild birds.”

A risk ‘for the foreseeable future’

Gooch’s concerns were echoed by the poultry board chair for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), James Mottershead, who said bird flu still remains a “huge risk” to businesses.

“The threat of avian influenza has not gone away, and it would be naïve to think that this horrific disease isn’t going to be a risk to the poultry sector for the foreseeable future,” he said.

James Mottershead. Source: NFU

“The NFU continues to raise the impacts of avian influenza at the highest level with every stakeholder and our key asks remain at the heart of everything we do.”

Following the lifting of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) last month, Mottershead said it is crucial that farmers do not drop their guard when it comes to prevention measures.

“Poultry farmers have worked incredibly hard to minimise the threat of avian influenza and will continue to do all they can to protect the health and welfare of their birds,” he said.

“It remains incredibly important that everyone who keeps birds remains vigilant and continues to maintain stringent biosecurity measures.

“This is crucial whether you are a commercial farmer with thousands of birds or a hobby keeper with one hen in the garden.”

Bird flu in the UK

The UK government announced today (Wednesday, August 23) that gatherings of galliforme poultry and galliforme birds (including chickens, turkeys, pheasants, partridge, quail and guinea fowl) are now permitted.

However, birdkeepers will need to follow the requirements of the poultry gathering general license and notify the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) at least seven days before the event, the government said.

Gatherings of anseriforme poultry and anseriforme birds including ducks, geese and swans are still not permitted.

These changes only apply to gatherings of galliforme poultry and galliforme birds held in England.

The government said galliforme birds from premises located in Wales and Scotland are not permitted to attend galliforme gatherings in England.

In the UK, there have been 199 confirmed cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu since October 1, 2022.

158 of these cases have been confirmed in England; 32 in Scotland; eight in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.

There have been 292 cases of bird flu in England since the H5N1 outbreak started in October 2021.