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Keepers are urged to stay vigilant on avian influenza

UK has zonal freedom from bird flu but this ‘dreadful and frightening disease’ hasn’t gone away and good biosecurity is vital to keep it at bay.

Gamekeepers are being advised to practise stringent biosecurity as the UK has self-declared zonal freedom from bird flu. The decision is in line with the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) rules and came into effect across Great Britain on 29 March. 

The UK does not have any high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks in poultry or other captive birds, but the disease is still found in wild birds across the country, where the risk remains at medium. As a result, keepers of poultry and other kept birds, including game prior to release, are being encouraged to practise stringent biosecurity to protect their health and welfare. Defra has published biosecurity guidance and a self-assessment checklist to assist keepers in maintaining high standards. 

Gamekeeper David Whitby told Shooting Times: “With over 3,000 full-time gamekeepers and thousands more part-time, the onus is now upon us all to be vigilant and declare any outbreak found. Bird flu is a dreadful and frightening disease, not just for the avian world, but a hop, skip and jump will see it spreading to humans, with the possible devastating consequences of the 1918 Spanish flu. That pandemic killed millions worldwide and started life as bird flu. 

“Self-declaration of any outbreak is essential and having several thousand keepers monitoring the situation is good. This disease is far more important than the loss of shooting — or the revenue from shooting — and keepers must follow the published Defra guidelines.” 

The update follows the UK’s declaration on behalf of Northern Ireland that the province was free from bird flu on 31 March 2023. 

GWCT senior adviser Mike Swan added: “This is good news, but the government advice to be ever vigilant and practise stringent biosecurity is apposite. Gamebirds face many other health threats too, and top-grade biosecurity should be routine for everyone involved in gamebird management.”

WOAH is constantly reviewing the situation and publishing updates regarding HPAI. Visit for more information.