AVIAN INFLUENZA housing restrictions are to be lifted nationwide from the end of March.

Compulsory housing measures for poultry and captive birds introduced across Great Britain in December – to help curb the spread of avian influenza – have been a vital tool in protecting flocks across the country from the disease which is circulating in wild birds.

Defra, the Scottish Government and Welsh Government have been working closely with industry and bird keepers to ensure that there are strict biosecurity measures in and around poultry premises to help keep flocks safe.

Measures put in place have been successful in helping to contain the disease and, provided that there are no new significant cases between now and the end of March, the current measures are due to be relaxed. The last confirmed case in poultry in Great Britain was confirmed in a flock of around 14,000 gamebirds at a rearing premises in Leven, Fife, over a month ago.

While the risk of bird flu has been reduced to ‘medium’, the UK's chief veterinary officers have reported that the risk of outbreaks is likely to persist for several weeks. As a result, enhanced biosecurity requirements that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Protection Zone (AIPZ) on November 11 will remain in place and poultry keepers are advised to apply enhanced biosecurity measures at all times to prevent and mitigate future outbreaks.

Bird keepers are advised to use the next two weeks 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 bird keepers will need to keep taking extra precautions, such as 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.

In a joint statement Great Britain’s three Chief Veterinary Officers said: “This will be welcome news for poultry keepers 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 bird keepers - 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.”

Poultry and captive bird keepers 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 their 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 bird keepers 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 APHA on 03000 200 301 and in Wales 0300 3038268.