Kent bird keepers are being reminded of the importance of sticking to strict biosecurity rules to limit the spread of Avian Influenza (AI).
While the risk of transmission to people is low, members of the public are also being urged to continue reporting, and not to touch or pick up, dead or sick birds they find while out and about enjoying the county’s great outdoors.
The calls from Kent County Council (KCC) follow confirmation from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) that the H5NI strain of the disease has been found at a premises near Bexhill-on-Sea, Rother, East Sussex, close to Kent’s border.
Commonly known as bird flu, AI circulates naturally in wild birds so they can spread the disease to poultry and other domestic birds.
Although regulations requiring poultry and pet birds to be kept inside – to reduce contact with wild birds – were lifted in May, the risk from wild birds remains. And with over 101 cases of the H5N1 strain across the country since October, an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) is still in place across Great Britain.
The rules mean that while birds are allowed to range outside, all bird keepers – whether they have pet birds, a commercial or a backyard flock – are legally required to take effective and precautionary biosecurity measures. This includes cleansing and disinfection of hard surfaces and fencing off ponds or standing water to reduce domestic birds’ contact with wild birds.
Mike Hill, Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, said: “While the recent lifting of the mandatory housing measures was welcome news to bird keepers, the recent cases of avian influenza, including just over our border in East Sussex, show that it is vital Kent keepers remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain high standards of biosecurity.
“The UK Health Security Agency has reassured that the risk to the general public’s health is very low and the Food Standards Agency assures properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.
“But should people find visibly sick or dead swans, geese or ducks or other wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, they should not pick them up, and instead report them to the Defra Helpline on 03459 33 55 77.
“This reporting helps the APHA understand how avian flu is distributed geographically, and in different types of birds, so calls do count.”
The highly pathogenic strain of Avian Flu was detected in two wild swans as part of routine surveillance on Stodmarsh in February.
In the event of a bird flu outbreak in domestic birds in Kent, KCC Trading Standards would work closely with Emergency Planning colleagues and the APHA to ensure measures and restrictions in place are followed to protect public and animal health – and enforce the legislation.
Head of Kent Trading Standards Steve Rock said: “Good housekeeping is an essential defence against bird flu and key to limiting its spread.
“All Kent bird keepers should continue following Defra rules and immediately report any signs of the disease in their flocks to the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.
“People who have over 50 birds are legally required to register but anyone who keeps poultry, even as pets, should sign up – if they haven’t already – so they be contacted in an outbreak.”
For the latest bird flu situation, and guidance for both keepers and members of the public, visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu