Scrupulous biosecurity is the most effective method of disease control and all bird keepers should apply enhanced measures to prevent future outbreaks.

Current situation

Mandatory housing measures for poultry and captive birds, which were introduced across England and Wales to help stop the spread of bird flu, will be lifted from 00:01 on Tuesday 18 April 2023, the Chief Veterinary Officer has confirmed following a latest assessment of the risk level.

The threat of avian influenza (‘bird flu’) to poultry and other captive birds continues and the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) remain in force across England.

The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) means that all bird keepers (whether they have pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock) must take extra precautions, such as restricting access for non-essential people on site, ensuring workers change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

All bird keepers are required to implement strict biosecurity measures to protect them from contact either directly or indirectly with wild birds, to help protect their flocks from the threat of avian influenza. The disease could kill your birds if these actions aren’t taken.

The scale of avian influenza outbreaks across the UK and Europe have been unprecedented with cases being confirmed into the second year of an outbreak for the first time.  The UK has faced its largest ever outbreak of bird flu with over 330 cases confirmed across the country since late October 2021. Find out more about the latest bird flu situation in England and guidance for bird keepers and the public.

The prevention measures introduced through the AIPZ including housing measures are introduced in a phased and escalating manner proportionate to the escalating risk to an area and may be introduced or withdrawn on a regional or national basis depending on the epidemiological situation.

The number of cases of HPAI H5N1 in both kept and wild birds has been falling since the end of 2022. The lifting of the housing measures has been triggered following the assessment that the risk of incursion of highly pathogenic (HPAI) avian influenza H5 in wild birds in Great Britain has reduced from very high to high. With the risk of poultry exposure to HPAI H5 in Great Britain has reduced from medium (with low uncertainty) to low (with high uncertainty) where good biosecurity is applied and has reduced from high (with low uncertainty) to medium (with high uncertainty) where biosecurity is suboptimal.

All bird keepers must follow enhanced measures at all times to prevent the risk of future outbreaks.

Dr Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, said:

“Whilst the lifting of the mandatory housing measures will be welcome news to bird keepers, scrupulous biosecurity remains the most critical form of defence to help keep your birds safe.

“It is thanks to the hard work of all bird keepers and vets who have played their part in keeping flocks safe this winter that we are in a position to take this action. However, the unprecedented nature of this outbreak has proven it’s more important than ever for bird keepers to remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain stringent standards of biosecurity.”

The UKHSA advise that the available evidence suggests viruses currently circulating in birds in the UK do not spread easily to people and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. There is no impact on the consumption of properly cooked poultry products, including eggs.

Do not touch or pick up any dead or sick birds that you find and instead report them using the new online reporting system or by calling the Defra helpline.

All poultry gatherings, including at fairs, shows and markets, remain banned, due to a large number of flocks mixing together and the risk posed by any infections spreading across the country.

Avian influenza is in no way connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is not carried in poultry or captive birds.

Advice to poultry keepers

All bird keepers must keep a close watch on them for signs of disease and maintain good biosecurity at all times. If you have any concerns about the health of your birds, seek prompt advice from your vet.

It is a legal requirement for bird keepers in the national AIPZ to follow biosecurity measures.

All bird keepers (whether they are pet birds, a commercial farm or just a few birds in a backyard flock) must remain vigilant and help prevent avian influenza by:

  • housing or netting all poultry and captive birds
  • cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing
  • reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and use effective vermin control
  • keep records of mortality, movement of poultry and poultry products and any changes in production
  • thoroughly clean and disinfect housing on a continuous basis
  • keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and bird housing entry and exit points
  • minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds
  • prevent access by poultry to ponds and watercourses and ensure that birds are kept in fenced or enclosed areas

See our biosecurity advice for more information.

Avian influenza (bird flu) is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of avian influenza 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. Failure to do so is an offence.

Cases in England

For details of the current avian influenza H5N1 cases in England and the measures that apply in the disease control zones around these cases, go to the avian influenza: cases and disease control zones in England guidance.

Bird keepers can check what zone they are in on our interactive map.

Wild birds

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) carries out year-round avian influenza surveillance of dead wild birds submitted via public reports and warden patrols.

You should report online or call the Defra helpline if you find:

  • 1 or more dead bird of prey, gull, swan, goose or duck in the same place
  • 5 or more dead wild birds of any other species in the same place

APHA then collect some of these birds and test them to help us understand how the disease is distributed geographically and in different types of bird. Not all birds will be collected.

Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find. For further information go to our guidance on reporting dead wild birds.

For further details see the report (updated weekly) of findings of HPAI in wild birds in Great Britain.

Sick or injured wild birds should not be reported to the Defra Helpline. You can report sick or injured birds of prey, gulls, swans, geese or ducks in England and Wales to the RSPCA (0300 1234 999) and in Scotland to the SSPCA (03000 999 999).

The RSPCA website carries information on what to do if you find a wild bird from a smaller species.