DEFRA has said poultry farmers must take action now to reduce the risk of avian influenza (AI) as part of its annual campaign to promote good biosecurity.

While the UK is currently free of AI, a report warned recently that highly pathogenic bird flu was likely to return to North-Western Europe this year following outbreaks in Russia.

See also: Warning over avian influenza returning to Europe this winter

The British Poultry Council’s Máire Burnett, who chairs the UK Poultry Health & Welfare Group said robust biosecurity measures were essential.

“As migratory birds return to winter in the UK, there is a risk they could bring avian influenza and infect the domestic wild bird population.

“It is crucial that all keepers remain vigilant and speak to their vet if they have any concerns about the health of their birds,” she added.

“Avian influenza poses a significant threat to the commercial poultry industry and risks huge economic disruption to international trade due to loss of ‘country freedom’ from avian influenza.”

Daniel Dring, of PD Hook hatcheries, echoed this message. “Having had first-hand experience of avian influenza, I know all keepers must maintain the highest standards of biosecurity to keep disease off premises.

“The impact of avian influenza financially and on the people looking after their birds can be devastating; it is a very stressful time for all affected who have to deal with the culling of the birds and the cleaning of the farm afterwards.”

He said dedicated on-farm clothing, disinfecting vehicles, limiting visitors and not sharing equipment all had their part to play, along with effective rodent control.

A joint statement by the four Chief Veterinary Officers in the UK said: “Avian flu is a constant threat to all poultry, and with winter approaching there will be an increasing risk of disease making its way into the UK from migrating birds.”

The UK Poultry Health & Welfare Group is holding a free evening webinar designed with all poultry/gamebird keepers in mind to raise awareness of the risk of avian influenza (AI).

It takes place on 20 October, and more information can be found here.