Tough new restrictions brought in by Chief Vet as bird flu cases predicted to rise in East Anglia

Poultry farmers and bird keepers have until the 12 October to comply with the new rules. Credit: PA

The UK's Chief Veterinary Officer is putting captive birds in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex under house arrest amidst fears cases of bird flu could rise further.

The mandatory housing measures, which will affect all poultry, come as the UK battles its largest ever outbreak of avian influenza.

In the last year there have been more than 160 cases confirmed in the country, with the disease detected at 16 premises in East Anglia since the beginning of September. There have also been several reports in wild birds in the area.

Bird keepers in this regional control zone will be forced to keep their birds indoors from 12th October. Credit: DEFRA

From the 12 October all bird keepers in the 'Regional Avian Influenza Prevention Zone' will be legally required to keep their birds indoors and follow stringent biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the disease, regardless of type or size.

The Chief Vet, Christine Middlemiss is now encouraging all bird keepers in the affected counties to use the few days to prepare, including taking steps to safeguard animal welfare, consult their private vet and expand housing where necessary.

She said: "We are seeing a growing number of bird flu cases on commercial farms and in backyard birds across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and expect the risk to continue rise over the coming months as migratory birds return to the UK.

"We are now taking further action to help protect flocks from this highly infectious and devastating disease.

"Keepers in these hotspots must continue to follow strict biosecurity standards to protect their flock, and should use the next few days to prepare and move their birds indoors."

The new housing measures come on top of the strengthened biosecurity measures that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) in September, covering Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex.

These measures include, all bird keepers restricting access for non-essential people on site, ensuring workers change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

Bird keepers are advised to consult the interactive map, to check if they are impacted and should then read the guidance which sets out the new requirements in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex.  

The UK Health Security Agency continue to advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advice remains unchanged, that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

The housing measures will remain in force in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex until further notice.  

The housing measure means bird keepers in the affected area must:

  • housing or netting all poultry and captive birds

  • cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing

  • reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and use effective vermin control

  • keep records of mortality, movement of poultry and poultry products and any changes in production

  • thoroughly cleanse and disinfect housing on a continuous basis

  • keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and poultry housing entry and exit points

  • minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds

  • prevent access by poultry to ponds and watercourses and ensure that birds are kept in fenced or enclosed areas 

Keepers should report suspicion of disease in their birds to APHA on 03000 200 301.