Poultry and other captive birds will have to be kept indoors under tightened rules aimed at curbing the spread of bird flu following a series of outbreaks.
The move was ordered by the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales following cases of the “highly infectious” disease, including in the wild.
From 14 December, all bird keepers will be required by law to keep their flock indoors or netted as a precaution against avian flu, as well as taking biosecurity measures.
It comes after an outbreak was confirmed among rearing turkeys near King’s Lynn, in Norfolk, taking to nine the number of cases in captive birds in England.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said all the birds on the infected premises will be humanely culled to limit the disease’s spread.
Public Health England has said the risk to the public from the virus was “very low”, and food standards agencies also said it does not affect the eating of poultry products.
Last month, restrictions were declared to prevent the spread of the virus as England, Scotland and Wales were made an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ).
This means that poultry and captive bird keepers must take additional steps such as disinfecting equipment and vehicles, changing clothing and footwear before entering enclosures and limiting access.
The rules would include hens kept as pets in gardens. The number of people wanting to raise chickens soared during lockdown, resulting in waiting lists for hens and chicken coops.
The three chief veterinary officers, Christine Middlemiss, Sheila Voas and Christianne Glossop, have encouraged bird owners to use the coming days to prepare for the tougher measures.
In a joint statement, they said: “We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease and are now planning to introduce a legal requirement for all poultry and captive bird keepers to keep their birds housed or otherwise separate from wild birds.
“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from 14 December 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, but it is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”
Wild birds migrating from mainland Europe during winter can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.
A spate of swan deaths across the UK are reportedly being investigated amid concerns they could be connected to a wave of avian flu from Europe.
Small outbreaks of the H5N8 strain of the virus, which has been in evidence among wild bird populations in Europe, have recently been confirmed in geese and swans in Gloucestershire, Devon and Dorset.
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