Bird flu restrictions to be dropped as risk level decreases

The avian flu measures first came into force in November. Credit: PA

Avian flu housing restrictions will be lifted next week as experts believe the risk posed by the bird-killing virus has dropped.

Measures to keep all poultry and captive birds indoors in England to prevent the spread of bird flu initially came into force in November last year.

Restrictions came as the UK faced its largest outbreak of bird flu, with more than 330 cases confirmed on commercial premises, smallholdings and in pet birds since October 2021.

The measures will be dropped on April 18 and mean that eggs laid by hens with access to outside range areas can return to being marketed as ‘free-Range’ eggs. 

While the risk of bird flu has been reduced to ‘medium’ for premises with poor biosecurity, the enhanced biosecurity requirements that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) will remain in force as infection may still be circulating in the environment for several more weeks.

The risk of bird flu remains assessed as low where good biosecurity is applied.

The government previously warned owners that avian influenza could kill domestic birds or poultry if action is not taken.

At the time, the UK Health Security Agency advised that the risk to public health from the virus is very low.

The advice came despite an 11-year-old Cambodian girl dying from the virus in February.

Both the girl and her father tested positive for the virus amid heightened concerns over a wave of bird flu spreading across the world since late 2021.

Bird flu normally spreads between sick poultry but can sometimes spread from poultry to humans.

Experts insist the risk to humans remains low, with vaccines already developed if the virus mutate or if person-to-person transmission is reported

The Food Standards Agency advice that avian flu poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers also remains unchanged.

National Trust ranger clearing dead birds from bird flu. Credit: PA

In Scotland, experts have renewed warnings that bird flu “may threaten the very survival of some species”.

A NatureScot report analysed the unprecedented avian flu outbreak among wild birds since 2021, providing advice to support the work of Scotland’s avian flu task force.Alastair MacGugan, a NatureScot wildlife manager, said: “Although there’s no silver bullet to solve this complicated dilemma, this report will be a great help as the task force plan action to reduce the effect of avian flu on Scotland’s important populations of wild birds.

“This is an upmost priority for our partners and ourselves as the geographic scale, range of species of wild birds affected, and severity of impacts, may threaten the very survival of some species."

The study found the number of wild birds which have been affected by avian flu in Scotland is unclear, as not all dead birds are found or reported.

It also highlighted that bird flu will continue to be an issue for wild birds into the 2023 nesting season and beyond.

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