Pressure is being put on the Scottish government to introduce a housing order on free-range poultry in the north-east of Scotland this autumn, to protect birds from avian influenza.
The calls come in response to the growing number of recent cases, with 15 outbreaks recorded across Scotland since July, of which eight are still subject to movement restrictions.
The most recent case occurred this week at a premises in Sheshader on the Isle of Lewis, though there have been other outbreaks in Shetland and near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, the latter of which led to the death of some 23,500 birds.
Addressing a debate in the Scottish parliament on Thursday (28 September), North East MPS Gillian Martin set out the case for mandatory biosecurity measures – including a possible housing order – should cases continue to rise.
Her intervention followed an earlier letter from Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan, David Duguid, to rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon in which he highlighted the “very worrying” risk posed by the 4,244 wild birds that have had been found dead or sick in north-east Scotland in the past 12 months.
“On behalf of poultry farmers in my constituency, I should be most grateful if you could provide some clarity on how the Scottish government plans on addressing this latest rise in avian flu – including, if required, the possibility of housing orders for commercial stocks in high-risk areas,” he wrote.
In response to these interventions, Scottish environment minister Gillian Martin explained that biosecurity is being kept under constant review, but noted that, while the risk of avian influenza in wild birds was currently “high”, for poultry it was still officially “low”.
But she conceded that the outbreaks during the summer months had been “unusual” and biosecurity remained particularly important as winter approaches, bring more migrating birds.
“If the risk to poultry from wild birds increases to certain levels, Scottish ministers may consider the introduction of mandatory biosecurity measures to the declaration of an avian influenza prevention zone [AIPZ],” she said.
The previous AIPZ was lifted in July. Were it to be introduced again, it may or may not include a housing order.
It is understood that NFU Scotland supports the idea of a housing order in high-risk areas of the country, especially considering the lack of affordable insurance products for poultry producers.