All the latest news, information and guidance related to avian influenza.
What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza (AI), also known as bird flu, is a viral infection that primarily affects birds. It spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces. It can also be spread by contaminated feed and water or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear.
There are two types of Avian influenza: low pathogenic (LPAI) and high pathogenic Avian influenza (HPAI). The current outbreak is associated with a high pathogenic strain H5N1. LPAI is not normally a serious condition (mild respiratory symptoms) but can mutate into HPAI.
Everyone involved in game shooting should consider what biosecurity measures they should take. Particular care should be taken by anyone who has been on or close to an infected site, and they should consider appropriate actions so that they do not act as a vector for the disease.
Good biosecurity is an essential defence against diseases such as AI and is key to limiting its spread during an outbreak.
When considering biosecurity on a shoot we should be looking for ways to reduce:
- Close contact between wild birds and game birds;
- The risk of transmission onto a shoot from another shoot by the guns/beaters/pickers-up; and
- The risk of spreading the disease on site between pens/drives/beats
Where is the situation right now?
While the risk of avian influenza for all poultry remains low (meaning the event is rare but does occur), following recent confirmed cases, BASC is encouraging members and others to remain vigilant and aware of the symptoms of the disease and to follow the latest biosecurity advice.
Additional mandatory restrictions will apply in any disease control zones, which are put in surrounding an ‘infected premises’ where avian influenza has been confirmed in poultry or other captive birds.
Defra and the Welsh government have published guidance to support land managers and ornithologists to mitigate the impact of avian influenza in wild birds.
Use the links below to access the latest government information regarding AI across the UK:
What to look out for
There are many symptoms of AI, depending on the strain and the species infected. Click here to read the government’s advice on how to spot AI. If birds have lost condition, it is most likely not bird flu. If in any doubt speak to your vet.
If I think my gamebirds have AI, what should I do?
This will depend on whether the birds in question are captive or wild.
For captive birds (those without the ability to come and go at will), AI is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of AI in poultry or captive birds, you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. In Northern Ireland call the DAERA helpline 0300 200 7840.
Failure to do so is an offence.
If you suspect your birds are infected with any disease, then contact your specialist gamebird vet immediately who will advise you on what to do.
For wild birds (including previously released gamebirds), you should call the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77) if you find:
- one or more dead birds of prey or owl(s);
- three or more dead gulls or wild waterfowl (swans, geese and ducks); or
- five or more dead birds of any species, including gamebirds.
You should not pick up or touch wild birds you suspect have AI until after you have contacted Defra and they have given you advice.
Calls to the Defra helpline concerning dead wild birds are triaged and not all birds will be collected. The criteria for which birds are collected are adjusted to increase or decrease the sensitivity of surveillance.
Monitoring and reporting findings
Avian influenza (AI) is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of AI in poultry or captive birds, you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. In Northern Ireland, if you suspect any strain of AI you must tell your local Divisional Veterinary Office immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.
If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77 – select option 7). Alternatively, you can report findings of dead wild birds online here.
Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.
Can I still go shooting?
Following a confirmed case, disease control zones are put in place. There are a number of conditions and rules which must be followed whilst these zones are in place.
While shooting can continue in these disease control areas, the release of gamebirds is prohibited.
Check if you are in a disease control zone on Animal and Plant Health Agency’s interactive map here.
Get in touch
For further guidance on AI, contact BASC’s game and wildlife management team on 01244 573 019 or email us here. Alternatively you can contact your local BASC regional team by clicking here.
Avian influenza (AI) spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces. It can also be spread by contaminated feed and water or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that AI is an airborne virus.
There are two types of Avian influenza. Low Pathogenic (LPAI) and High Pathogenic Avian influenza (HPAI). The current outbreak is associated with a high pathogenic strain H5N1. LPAI is not usually a serious condition (mild respiratory symptoms) but can mutate into HPAI.
When Avian influenza is confirmed or suspected in poultry or other captive birds, disease control zones are put in place around the IP to prevent the spread of the disease. Within these zones a range of restrictions on the movement of poultry and material associated with their keeping can apply. An easy way to find details of these is on the government’s interactive map, and in Northern Ireland on DAERA’s interactive map.
Government agencies carry out routine surveillance of disease risks in relation to AI and monitoring of findings (the term commonly used) in wild birds (there are details around reporting such findings below).
Details can be found here.
There are currently no restrictions on shooting in either a PZ or a SZ. The government reserves the right to impose restrictions on a wide range of activities (shooting included) if it deems the outbreak poses a threat to human health. Organisations will advise their members further if this situation develops. It is important to remain vigilant and monitor developments as the outbreak continues.
There are currently no restrictions on the movement of gamebird carcasses from shoots located in a disease control zone and no restrictions on their entering the food chain. Some AGHEs and other game dealers may not be prepared to accept game shot in a PZ or SZ as it may compromise their export status. All shoots should consider how their bag will be used in light of any restrictions.
Public Health England (PHE) advises that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency has confirmed that on the basis of current scientific evidence, avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.
Yes, but they are only one part of the process and to be effective they must contain a suitable AI approved disinfectant and be correctly used. For example, any disinfectant is only effective if the object to be disinfected is clean, hence the term “cleaning and disinfection”. Prior to disinfection any item must be thoroughly cleaned and then placed in the disinfectant for the recommended minimum time relevant to the prevailing conditions. Factors such as temperature will influence the efficacy of any disinfectant product. Be aware that some disinfectants may be corrosive when selecting your footwear.
Also consider your vehicle (especially the footwells) and any precautions that you should take to minimise the possibility that you could be responsible for spreading AI from one location to another.
Only use suitable Defra AI-approved disinfectants. They must be used at the correct dilution rate, and they must be replaced/replenished as necessary. See manufacturer’s guidelines for use.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) risk assessment (in relation to the spread of AI from wild birds to poultry) notes that they are unaware of any dogs becoming infected with Avian influenza by retrieving shot wildfowl or gamebird.
However, elsewhere such as America and Canada, scavenging species such as foxes and coyotes have been infected. Therefore, suitable precautions should be taken such as not feeding uncooked shot or culled birds to dogs and not allowing them to eat dead wild birds.
Well-cooked birds can be safely consumed by humans and animals alike. In certain circumstances it may be appropriate to wash a dog after it has been out (with a pet appropriate shampoo) and if you and your dog have been on areas such as known infected sites you/they should not then work on other shoots until you are satisfied that you have eliminated the potential for spreading AI.
Where required, further advice should be sought from your vet or membership organisation.
If dead wild birds are not needed for Avian influenza surveillance purposes i.e., if the relevant government agency has chosen not to collect them (or there are more carcasses than have been removed) and the landowner has taken the decision to remove carcasses, it is the landowner’s responsibility to safely arrange disposal of these carcasses. You need to consider personal protective equipment for staff who would be picking up dead birds as well as very strict biosecurity protocol for staff, clothing and vehicles.
Any carcasses collected must be disposed of as category 1 animal by-products if it is suspected that the animals were infected with a notifiable disease such as AI. You will need to arrange for a suitable waste disposal contractor to collect from your site and all appropriate biosecurity measures must be adhered to.
Yes, there are currently no restrictions on any shooting activities but as with game shooting, all participants should carefully consider what biosecurity measures are appropriate to their activity and location. Also consider any implications disease control zones could have on game meat that results from your activity, e.g., pigeons, ducks, etc. Check with your AGHE (game dealer) before taking birds or deer carcasses to their premises
Within disease control zones (PZs and SZs) release of game is prohibited. Additionally, a housing order (these can be implemented as part of an AIPZ) also prevents the release of gamebirds anywhere in the area it applies to, whether regional or national.
Follow the relevant above advice where applicable but also liaise with your host in good time to see if there are any specific actions which they require you to do. Should you be taking a day’s shooting and it needs to be cancelled as a result of AI, you should refer to the relevant terms and conditions relating to the booking and consider if insurance for cancellation is appropriate.
Public Health England (PHE) advises that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency suggests that Avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.
For further guidance contact BASC’s Game & Wildlife Management team on 01244 573 019 or email us here.
Following completion of a Defra risk assessment relating to the catching up of gamebirds, the Avian Influenza Prevention Zones (AIPZs) were reissued in England, Scotland and Wales on 9 January and with important changes relating to catching up of gamebirds.
Caught up birds will need to be held on a premises for period of 21 days before they can be moved off that premises to another (other than in very specific circumstances and a licence to move them is issued).
In practical terms this means that having been caught up, gamebirds will need to be kept in a ‘housing pen’ for a period of 21 days (since the last bird entered the pen) before they could be moved off the premises to another site; for example, from the shoot where they were caught to a game farm for future laying purposes.
This is required so to prevent the risk of onward spread of the disease by providing a sufficient time period to monitor birds.
Once caught up, previously wild gamebirds are classed as poultry and will be subject to the same rules and regulations as other poultry kept birds.
This means that all rules relevant to biosecurity relating to such captive birds required under the AIPZs, including where there are housing orders (which covers aspects such as birds being kept in either a building or covered pen to prevent contact with wild birds), must be followed.
It should also be noted that if captive birds (including previously wild ones caught up) were infected by Avian influenza then this would result in a confirmed case and disease control measures being implemented at your site.
This is general advice for those whose activities do not fall within a relevant disease control zone associated with an outbreak, within which specific legal requirements and restrictions apply. No birds (including gamebirds) may be moved into or out of these zones without a licence.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, catching up of gamebirds after 1 February is illegal under the Game Act of 1831 and the Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928. In these countries, catching up is only lawful during the season of the species in question. In Scotland, catching up of gamebirds is permitted until 28 February.
With AIPZs being issued by each of the home nations, BASC is advising not only those who catch up gamebirds but anyone who keeps birds to check the relevant declarations as there can be some slight differences. For example, in Wales there is a requirement for any one keeping birds (not just game) to complete a self-assessment checklist.
Further advice from Aim to Sustain and partners on the new catching up rules can be found here.
Further advice relating to gamebirds and Avian influenza can be found here.
From 8 November 2021 no gatherings of poultry, galliforme birds or anseriforme birds are permitted. Galliforme birds include pheasants, partridge, quail, chickens, turkeys and guinea fowl.
Anseriforme birds include ducks, geese and swans. The bird gatherings general licence for these types of bird was revoked on 8 November 2021. Further guidance available here England; Scotland; and Wales.
In Northern Ireland the ban on poultry gatherings, shows and sales has now been lifted and these are now permitted under general licence.
In AI disease control zones, certain movements of birds, eggs, poultry products, materials associated with their keeping or mammals may need a licence. Check if you are in a zone on Defra’s interactive map.
AI – Avian influenza, also known as Bird Flu.
IP – Infected Premises, a site where infection has been confirmed as present, usually in captive birds.
PZ – Protection Zone, a circular area 3km in radius around an IP where disease control measures apply.
SZ – Surveillance Zone, a circular area 10km in radius around an IP where disease control measures apply. It includes the PZ. In some circumstances a disease control zone may be smaller than 10km in radius.
Collectively, PZs and SZs are known as Disease Control Zones.
CBZ – Captive Bird Monitoring Zone, a 3km radius protection zone put around an IP involving small numbers of birds that can be classified as non-poultry in certain circumstances. A CBZ does not have a larger surveillance zone around it.
AIPZ – Avian Influenza Prevention Zone, A disease prevention measure applied more generally to an area or country requiring all keepers of birds to comply with certain disease prevention measures, regardless of their proximity to an IP. An AIPZ may be regional or national. A national AIPZ was introduced as of midday on Monday 17 October 2022. This means that from midday on Monday 17 October, it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers in the UK to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the threat of avian influenza.
The existing AIPZ with mandatory housing continues to apply in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex.
H/O – Housing Order, sometimes included in an AIPZ, a housing order requires all captive birds to be housed (unless subject to an exemption) to reduce the likelihood of their coming into contact with wild birds. All Housing Orders to date have included an exemption for over-wintered gamebirds, although certain biosecurity provisions may be required – details will be contained in the Housing Order. The only Housing Order currently in force is part of the Regional AIPZ in the Eastern Counties.
AGHE – Approved Game Handling Establishment
FSA – Food Standards Agency
Compulsory Registration of the Poultry Register
All keepers of 50 or more birds are legally required to register their details on the Government Poultry Register.