UK has culled around half a million birds this year as the country battles its “largest-ever” avian flu outbreak, the government said on Thursday.
Alongside culling, new rules require bird keepers to ensure all captive birds are indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures to try to stem the spread of the virus.
But officials are increasingly concerned that wild birds migrating from mainland Europe during the winter months are carrying the disease.
Geese, ducks and swans are among the wild bird species affected, while a number of birds of prey are also confirmed to have died.
UK reports bird flu for first time since 2017
“Each year the UK faces a seasonal risk in incursion of avian influenza associated with migratory wild birds,” Environment Secretary George Eustice told parliament.
“This year we are now seeing the largest-ever outbreak in the UK of avian influenza.”
Avian influenza presents a very low risk to human health, according to public health advice, and there is a low food safety risk.
The RSPB animal welfare charity said the disease was affecting a range of poultry operations across Britain.
UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said there were 40 infected premises in the UK, including 33 in England.
The “phenomenal level” has “huge human, animal and trade implications”, she told the BBC.
“We are going to need to keep up these levels of heightened biosecurity for all that time,” Middlemiss said, adding the country was only a few weeks into a migratory season that lasts until March.
Bird keepers must continue to take precautions such as regularly cleaning and disinfecting clothing, equipment and vehicles and limiting access for non-essential workers and visitors.
The government has said the new housing measures will be kept under regular review.
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