An avian influenza prevention zone (AIPZ) has been declared for all of the United Kingdom (UK) including Northern Ireland (NI).

The chief veterinary officers from England, Scotland, Wales and NI have made the move to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading among poultry and captive birds.

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 flu.

Commenting on the zoning, NI agriculture minister Edwin Poots said “the UK is currently experiencing its largest ever outbreak of avian influenza” as he urged poultry farmers to enhance precautions.

Risk levels

The upgrading of bird flu risk follows an increase in the number of detections in kept and wild birds across Wales, England and Scotland.

Cases of the H5N1 strain have been confirmed in captive birds and poultry at over 180 different holdings since October last year.

In NI, avian influenza has also been confirmed in samples collected from captive birds at Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), Strangford Lough, Co Down.

The AIPZ measures apply to all those who keep pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard or hobby flock.

Poultry keepers are asked to provide birds with food and water to which wild birds have no access. There are also now mandatory rules on cleansing and disinfection.

However, at this time, there is no requirement for poultry to be housed and bird gatherings are not prohibited. This will be kept under constant review, according to officials.

Similar rules were introduced in light of the bird flu risk in the Republic of Ireland on 19 September.

Immediate action

Minister Poots said: “A DAERA [Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs] veterinary risk assessment has noted that due to the approaching winter migratory seasons, the likelihood of an incursion of HPAI in NI will increase.

Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister Edwin Poots. \ Philip Doyle

“Without immediate action now on biosecurity and good farm practice, I am concerned that this incursion will not be the last into Northern Ireland in the months ahead.

“Due to this risk increase, which is echoed by our counterparts in Great Britain (GB), I have decided to implement an avian influenza prevention zone across Northern Ireland from 12.00 (noon) on 17 October 2022.

"This is in line with GB introducing an AIPZ from the same time and will reflect similar measures introduced in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) on 19 September.”

Chief veterinary officer for NI Dr Robert Huey added: “I would encourage all flock keepers, even if you keep just one bird, to improve biosecurity in order to prevent an incursion of the disease into our poultry flock.

"If avian influenza were to enter our NI flock, it would have a significant and devastating impact on our poultry industry, international trade and the wider economy.”

Updates on avian influenza, including the AIPZ, can be found here.

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Department introduces precautionary bird flu measures