POULTRY keepers have been told that they must now bring their birds indoors to shield them from the avian flu burning through the wild bird population.

Following a number of confirmed cases across Great Britain in recent weeks, the Chief Veterinary Officers for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have agreed to bring in these new housing measures from Monday, November 29, making it a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures.

Read more: Beware bird flu!

In addition to housing all poultry and captive birds, keepers must continue to take extra precautions to keep their flocks safe, including regularly cleaning and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles when entering or exiting sites and limiting access to non-essential workers or visitors.

In a joint statement, the UK’s four CVO's said: “Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from Monday, November 29, onwards you will be legally required to keep your birds indoors, or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds. We have not taken this decision lightly, taking this action now is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

NFU Scotland urged all poultry keepers, large or small, to comply with the CVO instructions. Union poultry policy manager, Penny Middleton, said: “In light of a number of confirmed Avian Influenza cases across the UK, the introduction of these new housing measures is the sensible next step to best protect Scottish poultry.

“Giving poultry keepers due notice of these new measures coming into force on November 29, will allow them to prepare and implement the housing order to the best of their ability. In recent years, the industry has had to respond to heightened AI risk at this time of year and many will have contingency plans prepared for this eventuality.

Read more: Take steps to keep Avian Flu at bay this winter

“Every poultry keeper, whether you have one hen in the back garden or a large poultry business, must house their birds and I would urge everyone with poultry to take these measures seriously. It’s crucial that everyone remains vigilant and reports any signs of disease in their birds at the earliest opportunity.”

Poultry keepers must now do the following:

• house or net all poultry and captive birds to keep them separate from wild birds;

• cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing;

• reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and use effective vermin control;

• thoroughly cleanse and disinfect housing on a continuous basis;

• keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and poultry housing entry and exit points;

• minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds.

These new housing measures will be kept under regular review.

Avian flu is thought to arrive with wild birds migrating to the UK from mainland Europe during the winter months. Public health advice remains that the risk to humans from the virus is very low, and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. There is zero impact on the consumption of properly cooked poultry products including eggs.

However, the public should not touch or pick up any dead or sick birds that they find and instead report them to the DEFRA helpline 03459 33 55 77. To report suspect disease in captive flocks in Scotland, keepers should contact their local Field Services Office.