The compulsory housing order currently in place for poultry and captive birds is set to be lifted at the end of this month.
In a joint statement, the chief veterinary officers from England, Scotland and Wales announced that the measures will be lifted on 31 March.
The housing measures were introduced across Great Britain on 14 December to help protect flocks and stop the spread of avian influenza, which has been circulating in wild birds across the UK and Europe.
There have been a number of confirmed cases of highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu outbreaks in commercial poultry flocks across Britain. But the last confirmed case was over a month ago on 12 February in Scotland.
Low pathogenic avian influenza H5N2 was confirmed on 2 November at a premises near Deal, Kent.
If there are no new significant cases between now and the end of March, the current housing measures will be relaxed, said government authorities.
Disease risk ‘medium’
But while the risk of bird flu has been reduced to “medium”, the risk of outbreaks is likely to persist for several weeks, Defra said.
As a result, biosecurity measures that were brought in as part of the avian influenza protection zone on 11 November will remain in place.
In a joint statement, Great Britain’s three Chief Veterinary Officers said:
“This will be welcome news for poultrykeepers across the country who have put great effort into keeping their flocks safe this winter.
“We have taken swift action to contain and eliminate this disease, and all birdkeepers – whether they have just a few birds or thousands – must continue do their bit to maintain strict biosecurity measures on their premises so that we do not lose the progress that we have made over the past few months, as low risk does not mean no risk.”
Poultrykeepers are being advised to use the next fortnight to prepare the ranges and outdoor areas for release of the birds.
This will include cleansing and disinfection of hard surfaces, fencing off ponds or standing water and reintroduction of wild bird deterrents.
In addition, when the birds are allowed out at the end of March, all poultry and captive birdkeepers will need to keep taking extra biosecurity precautions.
This includes cleaning and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles, limiting access to non-essential people on their sites, and workers changing clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures.
Public health advice is that the risk to human health from the H5N8 virus strain is low, and risk from the H5N2, H5N5 and H5N1 virus strains is very low.
Food standards bodies advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not affect the consumption of poultry products including eggs.
Advice to prevent avian flu outbreaks in flocks
Poultry and captive birdkeepers are advised to be vigilant for any signs of disease in their birds and any wild birds, and seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.
They can help prevent avian flu by maintaining good biosecurity on premises, including:
- Fencing off ponds, streams, boggy areas or standing water, and draining them where possible
- Netting or covering ponds
- Removing any wild bird feed sources
- Deterring wild birds by regularly walking through the area or by using predator decoys
- Cleansing and disinfecting concrete or other permeable areas
- Putting down wood shavings in wet areas
- Limit the number of people who come onto the site
- Use disinfectant foot dips when entering and exiting enclosures or houses.
Poultry and captive birdkeepers and members of the public should continue to report dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 (option 7), and keepers should report suspicion of disease to the Animal and Plant Health Agency on 03000 200 301 and in Wales 0300 303 8268.