Many people across Wales keep birds such as chickens, other poultry and waterfowl in their gardens or smallholdings.
As well as for food production, some of these birds are kept as pets and can become a well-loved part of the family.
We are now well into an incursion of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza into Europe and you may be aware that there have been a number of outbreaks of AI in birds across the United Kingdom, including three outbreaks in Wales. It is likely that this period of risk will extend to the spring of 2022.
At the start of November the whole of Wales was declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone which means it is a legal requirement for keepers of all captive birds to follow strict biosecurity measures to protect their birds. This applies to everyone who keeps birds, whether you keep a flock or have one bird.
A Housing Order has also been introduced across Wales and Great Britain which means all kept birds must be housed in a suitable building, such as a shed or outbuilding, or a temporary structure.
It is important to understand the purpose of these two measures – Avian Influenza is spread in the droppings of some species of wild birds, mainly waterfowl. It is therefore essential to prevent kept birds from coming into direct contact with wild, carrier birds. Housing does this.
But it is also essential to prevent spread of infection from things that could be contaminated with bird droppings. This includes - hands, clothing, footwear, vehicles and tyres, equipment such as egg boxes and cages, feed and bedding. Your biosecurity plan should address risks to all these potential sources of infection for your birds. We have a biosecurity checklist to help keepers.
The risk to human health from this strain of the avian influenza virus is very low. It is safe to eat poultry meat and eggs as usual.
If you keep birds, even if it’s just one hen, please register on the Poultry Register which will allow you to have the latest updates and advice. This will allow you to take immediate action to protect your birds if an outbreak is discovered near you. It also helps us to protect the area should an outbreak occur. If you keep more than 50 birds, you must by law register your premises in the Poultry Register.
Lastly, please be vigilant for any signs of ill health in your birds – in their physical appearance and their behaviour. Report any signs of illness to your vet. Quick action by bird keepers can help reduce the risk of infection, and potential further spread.
It is important not to pick up or touch any sick or dead bird. Report to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.
I know this is a worrying time for bird keepers. Avian flu is a major risk to our birds – both in commercial units and those kept by families in gardens. The disease is devastating for them, and very distressing for their owners. Let’s protect the health of our national flock, the resilience of our rural economies. However, by working together, and taking basic measures to keep our birds safe we can reduce the risk of further outbreaks.