Surveillance zones imposed around three poultry premises in Dumfries and Galloway following outbreaks of avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 have now been removed.

Scottish Ministers declared the lifting of the 10-kilometre-around zones near Moffat, Annan and Gretna following the completion of preliminary cleansing and disinfection, and all mandatory surveillance requirements and investigations.

However, the more general UK-wide Avian Influenza Prevention Zone remains in place, and producers and bird keepers are reminded that they are legally required to comply with the Order to house birds that came in to effect on November 24, 2021, and to keep following strict biosecurity procedures, regardless of the number of birds being kept.

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Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer Sheila Voas said: “This year we are seeing the worst AI outbreak ever in the UK with over 80 domestic poultry and captive bird establishments confirming cases and more than 500 wild bird avian influenza findings recorded across GB.

“I would like to thank those who have been tirelessly following the rules about good biosecurity and housing," said Ms Voas. "The lifting of these zones now means that we have no Protection or Surveillance Zones in Scotland. Although this is welcome news, I want to stress that this does not mean that AI has gone away – in fact the risk from AI remains unchanged.

“Just one teaspoon of wild bird faeces infected with avian influenza can kill tens of thousands of birds, so it is important that people are maintaining good practices to protect their birds from AI," she warned. "This includes ensuring birds are kept separate from wild birds and their droppings, limiting access to your poultry premises and ensuring that all feed and bedding is stored under cover and the poultry shed is in good repair to keep out rodents and potentially contaminated rain water.

“I would encourage all keepers to ensure that they keep up to date with the current disease situation. The best way to do this is to register your poultry and captive birds on the GB Poultry Register. Although this register is mandatory for flocks of poultry and/or captive birds of 50 and over, it is also designed to support smallholders and backyard keepers by providing updated disease information and alerts, so we would encourage any keepers of less than 50 birds to register as well.”

NFU Scotland backed this call for all smallholders and keepers of backyard flocks to sign up to the Poultry Register, noting that thousands of wild geese on the Solway coast in Dumfries and Galloway have already died during the AI outbreak, and there was a need for continued vigilance across all of Scotland as traditional migration patterns will soon see geese start to migrate north and east to areas like Loch Leven and the East Coast.

Given the 'unprecedented level' of threat posed by AI to commercial flocks, the union called for all non-essential inspections on poultry units to be conducted virtually, and said it would be contacting Scottish Government to highlight the willingness of the industry to cooperate fully with such virtual inspections.

Union poultry policy manager Penny Middleton said: “The Avian Influenza situation continues to cause huge concern and all flock owners in Scotland – large and small – must house birds and adhere to biosecurity measures.

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“Unfortunately, it is apparent from anecdotal reports, that non-compliance with the housing order remains commonplace in backyard or garden flocks and that places the whole Scottish poultry industry at an unacceptable risk. All bird keepers, whether you only have one or two hens or thousands, must keep birds indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures to limit the spread and eradicate the disease.

“All can play a part in tackling this devastating disease, including the public, should you be out taking a walk this winter. If you find a single dead swan, goose, or duck; a single dead bird of prey, or five or more dead wild birds of any other species including gulls, then you should report them to Defra’s national telephone helpline: 03459 33 55 77 (and select option 7)."

Keepers who are concerned about the health or welfare of their flock should seek veterinary advice immediately.

The advice from Public Health Scotland is that the risk to human health from the virus remains very low, and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. It does not affect the consumption of poultry products, including eggs.