Avian flu: Outdoor flock hit days after housing ban lifted

A commercial poultry unit has succumbed to avian influenza (AI) just five days after the government lifted a housing order on outdoor flocks.

The order was imposed on 29 November last year after migrating birds brought the disease into the UK and outbreaks began to rise rapidly.

But, after the UK’s worst winter outbreak which saw more than 100 cases in six months, the ban was finally lifted on 2 May.

Cases had slowed and 10 days had elapsed since the previous outbreak.  

See also: Poultry housing order for free-range birds to lift from 2 May

However, the government confirmed this weekend that a free-range flock in Lowdham, Newark and Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, had tested positive for H5N1 avian flu.

The farm is now at the centre of a 3km protection zone where birds will have to be rehoused.

A wider 10km surveillance zone has also been imposed. Flock-keepers can check whether their farms lie within one of the zones using the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (Apha) interactive map

All of the birds at the farm will be humanely destroyed to control the spread of the disease.

NFU chief poultry adviser Aimee Mahony said that Apha officials had begun an investigation into the infection route.

It was too early to say whether the flock was already infected before the housing ban was lifted, she added.

Whatever the outcome of the investigation, it was clear that avian flu remains a serious risk to UK flocks, Ms Mahony said.

Flock-keepers should remain vigilant and maintain strict biosecurity levels on units.

Even though Apha has downgraded risk levels to “low” for high biosecurity farms, and “medium” where measures are suboptimal, it has suggested the virus will remain circulating in the environment for several weeks, Ms Mahony said.

It was, therefore, extremely important for flock-keepers to maintain their guard.

Within the past five weeks there have been cases as far apart as Devon, Suffolk and Nottinghamshire, demonstrating the widespread presence of the disease.

Biosecurity tips

The NFU and Defra chief vet Christine Middlemiss have provided the following biosecurity tips:

  • Cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry – if practical, use disposable protective clothing
  • Reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products
  • Use effective vermin control
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect housing at the end of a production cycle
  • Keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all points where people should use it, such as farm entrances and before entering poultry housing or enclosures
  • Minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds.

Report avian flu

If you find dead swans, geese, ducks or other wild birds, you should report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

Birdkeepers must report suspicion of disease:

  • England Defra Rural Services Helpline: 03000 200 301
  • Wales: 0300 303 8268
  • Scotland: Contact the local field services office
  • Northern Ireland: 0300 200 7840