Avian flu prevention zone in force across the UK as Defra issues new rules to help limit cases of bird flu
An avian flu prevention zone has been put in place across the UK with members of the public being asked to report any sightings of dead wild birds.
The move, says the government, comes after the disease was detected in both captive and wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales.
Avian flu, says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, circulates naturally in wild birds, but when they migrate to the UK from mainland Europe over the winter they risk spreading the disease to poultry and other birds being kept in this country.
Whether people keep just a few birds or thousands - strict biosecurity measures must now be followed by law to prevent any further spread of the disease.
Keepers with more than 500 birds will need to restrict access for non-essential people on their sites, workers will need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and site vehicles will need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
While 'backyard' owners, say officials, with smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks or geese, must also take steps to limit the risk of bird flu spreading to their animals.
Health officials insist that the risk to public health from bird flu, also known as H5N1, is 'very low' and UK food standards agencies say it also poses a very low food safety risk to consumers - with properly cooked poultry and poultry products remaining safe to eat.
However anyone who finds dead wild birds should report their sighting to Defra's national dead wild bird helpline, while keepers are being reminded that bird flu is a notifiable disease and so any potential cases must also be reported immediately, with failure to do so an offence.
In a joint statement the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales said: "Following a number of detections of avian influenza in wild birds across Great Britain we have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone across the whole of Great Britain. This means that all bird keepers must take action now to prevent the disease spreading to poultry and other domestic birds.
"Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now legally required to introduce higher biosecurity standards on your farm or small holding.
"It is in your interests to do so in order to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease."
The prevention zone - or AIPZ - does not include a requirement to house birds but government officials say this is being kept under constant review and the advice may change as the country moves closer to winter where there is an increased risk of the virus spreading.
Poultry keepers and members of the public should report dead wild birds to Defra’s national dead wild bird helpline on 03459 33 55 77 and report suspicion of disease to 03000 200 301.