DEFRA has announced that as of 00:01 on Tuesday 18th April 2023, the mandatory housing measures for poultry and captive birds will be lifted following the latest assessment of the risk level.

This marks a significant change for bird keepers, as poultry and other captive birds will no longer need to be housed and can be kept outside, except for those within a Protection Zone. Consequently, eggs laid by hens with access to outside range areas can once again be marketed as ‘Free-Range’ eggs.

Bird keepers are advised to use the coming days to prepare their outside areas for the release of their birds. This includes cleansing and disinfection of hard surfaces, fencing off ponds or standing water, and reintroduction of wild bird deterrents. To prevent the risk of future outbreaks, poultry and captive bird keepers must continue to apply enhanced measures at all times.

Among the preventative measures, bird keepers are advised to cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment, and vehicles before and after contact with birds. They should also reduce the movement of people, vehicles, or equipment to and from areas where birds are kept. Thorough cleansing and disinfection of bird housing should be maintained continuously, and fresh disinfectant at the right concentration should be available at all entry and exit points.

Bird keepers should minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry, captive birds, and wild birds, ensuring that all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds. They must also remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their birds or wild birds and seek prompt advice from their veterinarian if they have any concerns.

UK Health agencies have reassured the public that the viruses currently circulating in birds in the UK do not spread easily to humans, and food standards bodies have stated that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

Bird keepers should report any suspicion of disease in England to the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301 and familiarise themselves with the avian flu advice. Members of the public are reminded not to touch or pick up any dead or sick birds they find. Any dead swans, geese, ducks or other dead wild birds should be reported to the Defra helpline using the new online reporting system or by calling 03459 33 55 77.