Avian influenza (bird flu) viruses can be classified according to their ability to cause severe disease (pathogenicity) as either highly pathogenic or low pathogenic.
Clinical signs are highly variable but may include swollen heads, a blue colouration of the comb and wattles, dullness, lack of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea, mortality and drop in egg production.
Avian influenza is a notifiable disease and if you suspect it you must report it to your local Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office.
The risk level for an Avian Influenza incursion in Scotland and the rest of GB is “low” for wild birds and “low” for domestic poultry and other captive birds. There are currently no restrictions on bird keepers in Scotland, and bird gatherings are permitted under licence.
There are no restrictions on Scottish bird keepers and the Scottish Government will continue to monitor the situation across the UK and the rest of Europe, carefully. While findings in wild birds are not unexpected for the time of year, it is a timely reminder for all bird keepers to maintain good levels of biosecurity and to remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flock. In addition, Scottish Government has identified some sites that are at a higher risk of avian influenza and owners of poultry in those areas are strongly encouraged to review their biosecurity arrangements now. See section on Higher Risk Areas below for more details.
Sign up to the APHA Alerts Service to keep up to date with the latest news.
Biosecurity means simple procedures or steps you can take to prevent disease. The risk of bird flu in the UK from wild birds never disappears completely so it is essential that bird keepers maintain effective biosecurity all year round. An outbreak of bird flu in a small hobby or backyard flock can have an impact on commercial poultry sector through both the introduction of movement restrictions and temporary loss of exports with other countries.
There are simple actions that can be taken to help reduce the chance of your birds becoming infected. A variety of guidance is available:
Higher Risk Areas (HRAs)
All areas in Great Britain remain at risk of bird flu in wild birds. If you keep poultry, including game birds, pet or other captive birds in anywhere in GB you should take steps now to review your biosecurity.
However, in Great Britain we’ve defined a number of areas as ‘Higher Risk Areas’ (HRAs). These are generally areas near where wild birds (and in particular gulls and wild waterfowl) gather, such as lakes, marshes or estuaries.
Check if your premises is within an HRA on our interactive map.
We encourage all keepers to follow our biosecurity advice it represents good practice - whether you have commercial flocks, smaller flocks, game birds, and pet birds. If all or part of your premises is in a HRA you should follow biosecurity advice to protect your birds. We consider that you’re in an HRA even if only part of your premises falls within the HRA.
What do I do if I find a dead wild bird?
Wild birds can carry several diseases that are infectious to people, so it is best that you leave any dead birds alone.
If you find a dead bird of prey, three or more gulls or wildfowl species (particularly wild geese, wild ducks, swans) or find five or more birds of any other species in the same location and at the same time, please report these incidents to Defra’s national helpline telephone 03459 335577, Mon-Fri 8am to 6pm).
As part of routine wildlife disease surveillance, official vets will conduct post-mortem examinations on birds reported in this manner. APHA provide a report on weekly findings of HPAI in wild birds in Great Britain.
If you must dispose of a dead bird, you should follow the guidelines below to minimise risk of infection. These simple hygiene precautions are also effective against avian influenza or ‘bird flu’.
- Avoid touching the bird with your bare hands.
- If possible, wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling (if disposable gloves are not available, see 7).
- Place the dead bird in a suitable plastic bag, preferably leak proof. Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag.
- Tie the bag and place it in a second plastic bag.
- Remove gloves by turning them inside out and then place them in the second plastic bag. Tie the bag and dispose of in the normal household refuse bin.
- Hands should then be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
- If disposable gloves are not available, a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove. When the dead bird has been picked up, the bag can be turned back on itself and tied. It should then be placed in a second plastic bag, tied and disposed of in the normal household waste.
- Alternatively, the dead bird can be buried, but not in a plastic bag.
- Any clothing that has been in contact with the dead bird should be washed using ordinary washing detergent at the temperature normally used for washing the clothing.
- Any contaminated indoor surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned with normal household cleaner.
Great Britain Poultry Register
There is a legal requirement for all poultry keepers with 50 or more birds to register their premises. The voluntary registration of premises with fewer than 50 birds is encouraged.
For more information on Scotland's egg and poultry sector including inspections, marketing, regulations and application forms, visit the Rural Payments and Services website.
Bird gatherings are currently permitted in Scotland under the general licence. The organiser of the gathering is responsible for ensuring that the conditions of the general licence are complied with, including strict biosecurity requirements. Further information and advice is available in our Gatherings FAQ.
Bird gatherings are subject to prior notification to the Inverness Animal and Plant Health Agency Office. Non-compliance may constitute an offence and a person may be liable to a term not exceeding six months in prison, and/or a £5,000 fine on conviction.
The Notifiable Avian Diseases Control Strategy sets out the disease control measures we would take if Avian Influenza was suspected or confirmed in the UK.
All birds on the infected premises would be culled. Disease control zones would be declared with movement restrictions and controls on birds, meat, eggs, and anything likely to spread disease within the zones.
The Avian Influenza and Influenza of Avian Origin in Mammals (Scotland) Order 2006
The Avian Influenza (Slaughter and Vaccination) (Scotland) Regulations 2006
The Avian Influenza (Preventive Measures) (Scotland) Order 2007
The Avian Influenza (H5N1 in Poultry) (Scotland) Order 2007
The Avian Influenza (H5N1 in Wild Birds) (Scotland) Order 2007