NEW housing measures to protect poultry and captive birds against avian influenza (Bird Flu) are being introduced after cases across the UK, including in Fife.

The Chief Veterinary Officers for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have agreed to bring in new housing measures to protect poultry and captive birds from avian influenza following a number of confirmed cases across the United Kingdom in recent weeks.

The new housing measures, which will come into force on Monday next week, November 29, mean that it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.

Wild birds migrating to the UK from mainland Europe during the winter months can carry the disease and this can lead to cases in poultry and other captive birds.

Public health advice remains that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

Government Chief Veterinary Officers are encouraging bird keepers to use the next five days to prepare for the new housing measures, including taking steps to safeguard animal welfare, consult their vet and put up additional housing where necessary.

The Chief Veterinary Officers from across all four nations have worked together to introduce the new housing measures at the same time, meaning that the restrictions will be applied across the whole of the UK.

In a joint statement the UK’s four Chief Veterinary Officers said:

“We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease and are now planning to introduce a legal requirement for all poultry and captive bird keepers to keep their birds housed or otherwise separate from wild birds.

“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from Monday 29 November onwards you will be legally required to keep your birds indoors, or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds. We have not taken this decision lightly, taking this action now is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

Following the news that bird keepers across the UK will have to house their birds from Monday, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Claire Baker has highlighted the importance of backyard keepers following the new requirements in order to mitigate risk.

Last week, Ms Baker called on the Scottish Government to ensure keepers of birds and poultry, as well as the general public, were prepared to respond to any cases of avian influenza virus, following reports of cases in Fife, Perth and Angus, and the status of the UK as an avian influenza prevention zone.

During Portfolio Questions on Environment and Rural Affairs, Ms Baker asked the Scottish Government how it was ensuring keepers, including households with a small number of chickens, were up to date with their responsibilities, and what steps were being taken to encourage preparedness ahead of the anticipated outbreak season this winter.

Following the update from the Scottish Government, MSP Baker said: "Over a million households across Britain now keep chickens but registration is only a legal requirement for keepers of larger flocks. With new housing requirements for birds and strict biosecurity measures coming into force it is vital that all keepers are up to date with their responsibilities.

“Chickens make friendly pets and many backyard keepers will enjoy looking after chickens and the benefits they bring, but they may not always be fully aware of their responsibilities and how important it is to follow them, even for a very small number of birds. From Monday 29 November there is a legal requirement for all bird keepers to keep their birds indoors, in addition to limiting movement in and out of bird enclosures and disinfecting clothing and footwear after entering.

“The Scottish Government needs to ensure it is working to communicate with smaller backyard keepers and the general public on what steps should be taken to mitigate risk and what to do if encountering dead birds.”