A WARNING has been issued to poultry keepers to take urgent biosecurity measures or risk losing flocks to bird flu.

The stark message comes as the UK faces its largest ever outbreak of bird flu, with five cases confirmed across Scotland since the start of November and more than 50 across the UK.

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New housing measures were introduced last month to stop the disease spreading, which legally requires chickens, ducks, geese or any other domesticated birds be kept indoors and that strict biosecurity measures be followed on those premises.

People are reminded that they can spread the disease on their clothes and shoes, and have been urged to wash their hands and disinfect footwear before entering bird enclosures.

Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas, has reminded poultry keepers that whilst the main source of infection is migratory wild birds, people risk infecting their own flocks by walking the virus into their holdings.

“We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease including introducing housing measures,” said Ms Voas. “However, we are seeing a growing number of bird flu cases both on commercial farms and in backyard birds right across the country.

“Many poultry keepers have excellent biosecurity standards but the number of cases we are seeing suggests that not enough is being done to keep bird flu out. Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands you must take action now to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.

“Implementing scrupulous biosecurity has never been more critical. You must regularly clean and disinfect your footwear and clothes before entering enclosures, stop your birds mixing with any wild birds and only allow visitors that are strictly necessary. It is your actions that will help keep your birds safe.”

Poultry keepers have been urged to do the following:

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

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

• where possible change their footwear before entering sheds housing poultry and captive birds. If not, then ensure they are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected;

• 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; and

• 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.

Farmers and members of the public are urged not to touch or pick up any dead or sick birds that they find. If you find dead swans, geese or ducks or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, they should be reported to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.