Guidance: Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

How to spot avian influenza (bird flu), what to do if you suspect it, and measures to prevent it.

Avian influenza (bird flu) mainly affects birds. It can also affect humans and other mammals.

Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of bird flu 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.

If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77 – please select option 7).

If you keep poultry, whether commercially on a farm, or as pets in your garden, or rearing game birds, you should 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 poultry, seek prompt advice from your vet.

Poultry includes chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, pigeon (bred for meat), partridge, quail, guinea fowl and pheasants.

You should register your poultry, even if only kept as pets, so we can contact you during an outbreak. This is a legal requirement if you have 50 or more birds.

Latest situation

Poultry and other captive birds

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (PDF39.1KB6 pages) (AIPZ) has been declared across the whole of England effective from 5pm on 11 November 2020.

Declarations for an AIPZ in Scotland and Wales have also been made by the Scottish Government and Welsh Government. The decision to implement this AIPZ follows a risk assessment containing the latest scientific and ornithological evidence and veterinary advice.

All poultry keepers in England (whether they have commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock) are required by law to take a range of biosecurity precautions. The AIPZ means extra biosecurity measures must be done by all bird keepers (including game birds and pet birds) to protect them from the risk of avian influenza from wild birds.

If you keep poultry (including gamebirds or pet birds) or other captive birds, you must act now to reduce the risk of disease in your flock by following the relevant biosecurity measures required within the AIPZ.

Good biosecurity improves the overall health and productivity of your flock by helping keep out poultry diseases such as avian influenza and limiting the spread of disease in an outbreak.

All bird gatherings within the AIPZ are prohibited therefore the general licence that had permitted bird gatherings has been revoked.

You can find out more about these cases on the movement controls and licences section including specific legal restrictions.

A case of avian influenza H5N8 (pathogenicity yet to be determined) in broiler breeder chickens near Leominster in Herefordshire was confirmed on 11 November 2020.

The following 3 cases of avian influenza in poultry or other captive birds have now been confirmed:

Avian influenza H5N8 (pathogenicity yet to be determined) in broiler breeder chickens at a premises near Leominster, in Herefordshire. A 3km (Area A) and 10km (Area B) Temporary Control Zone have been put in place around the infected premises. Details of the measures that apply in the Temporary Control Zone can be found in the Declaration of a Temporary Control Zone (Avian Influenza) (PDF797KB14 pages).

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 was confirmed on the 2 November at a premises near Frodsham, Cheshire. A 3km Protection Zone and a 10km Surveillance Zone have been put in place around the infected premises. An updated outbreak assessment for this case and HPAI in UK and Europe was published on 6 November 2020.

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) H5N2 was confirmed on the 2 November at a premises near Deal, Kent. A 1km low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) Restricted Zone has been put around the premises. A preliminary outbreak assessment for this case and LPAI in the UK and Europe was published on 4 November 2020.

Check if you are in a disease control zone on our interactive map.

You can find out more about these cases on the movement controls and licences section including specific legal restrictions.

We’re taking immediate and robust action and an investigation is underway to understand the origin of the disease in each of these cases.

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. As part of this surveillance, wild geese near Stroud in Gloucestershire and swans near Dawlish in Devon have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8. In addition, a wild goose near Weymouth in Dorset has tested positive for H5N8 (pathogenicity yet to be determined).

For further details of findings of HPAI in wild birds we publish a report (updated regularly) on findings of HPAI in wild birds in Great Britain.

If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77).

Risk level

Following confirmed cases of avian influenza in England and increasing reports of avian influenza affecting flocks in mainland Europe, the risk level for avian influenza incursion in wild birds in GB was been raised from ‘medium’ to ‘high’ on the 6 November 2020.

The risk level for the disease being introduced to poultry premises in GB was also raised from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ on the 6 November. It should be noted that the risk of introduction to individual premises depends upon the level of biosecurity implemented on a premises to prevent direct or indirect contact with wild birds.

In response the Chief Vets from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are urging bird keepers across the UK to maintain and strengthen their biosecurity measures in order to prevent further outbreaks of avian influenza in the UK.

If you keep poultry (including game birds or as pets), you should follow our biosecurity best practice advice. Remain vigilant for any signs of disease in your flock and report any sign of avian influenza to Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.

Public Health England advises that the risk to the public’s health is very low. Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said that on the basis of the current scientific evidence, avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers

Avian influenza is unconnected with coronavirus (COVID-19).

You can sign up to our Alerts Service to keep up to date with the latest news. You do not need to sign up if you have registered your poultry. You can also get Defra email alerts or subscribe to Defra’s RSS feed.

Biosecurity advice

If you keep poultry or other captive birds, you must take action to reduce the risk of disease in your flock by following government advice on biosecurity. This is especially relevant if your birds are located in a Higher Risk Area (HRA).

Good biosecurity improves the overall health and productivity of your flock by helping keep out poultry diseases such as avian influenza and limiting the spread of disease in an outbreak.

This applies just as much if you only have a few birds as pets, or if you have a large commercial flock. An outbreak of bird flu in back garden chickens results in the same restrictions on movement of birds. It has the same effect on farmers and trade in poultry as an outbreak on a commercial farm.

To ensure good biosecurity, all poultry keepers should:

  • minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures
  • clean footwear before and after visiting birds, using a Defra approved disinfectant at entrances and exits
  • clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment that have come into contact with poultry
  • keep areas where birds live clean and tidy, and regularly disinfect hard surfaces such as paths and walkways
  • humanely control rats and mice
  • place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly
  • avoid keeping ducks and geese with other poultry species, where possible
  • keep birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around outdoor areas they access
  • keep a close watch on birds for any signs of disease and report any very sick birds or unexplained deaths to your vet

Register your birds

We encourage all keepers to register their birds with us so we can contact you quickly if there is a disease outbreak in your area and you need to take action.

If you have more than 50 birds, you are legally required to register your flock within one month of their arrival at your premises. If you have less than 50 birds, including pet birds, you should still register.

Find out how to register your birds.

Report signs of disease

You must keep a close watch on your birds for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from your vet if you have any concerns. If you suspect any type of avian influenza you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. Failure to do so is an offence.

Small flock keepers and pet bird owners

Simple advice for people keeping just a few birds is available in this poster. If you keep poultry, print this and keep it handy, or put a copy on your noticeboard:

This was put together by Defra and the Scottish and Welsh governments, with support from the National Farmers Union, the British Hen Welfare Trust, the RSPCA and the Poultry Club of Great Britain.

Commercial keepers

If you are a commercial keeper, you should read our detailed information about the biosecurity precautions we recommend you take:

Pigeons or birds of prey

If your birds are within a disease control zone, make sure you check the restrictions applicable to that zone.

You can exercise, train and race pigeons or fly birds of prey, but you should try to prevent them from making direct contact with wildfowl. Keep a close watch on the health of your birds.

Game birds and shoots

If you’re involved with gamebirds you should read the advice published on the Game Farmers Association website (PDF). You need to maintain good biosecurity at your premises. This advice has been put together by seven leading countryside and shooting organisations (BASCCACLAGFAGWCTNGO and SGA) and endorsed by Defra, the Scottish and Welsh Governments and DAERA in Northern Ireland.

If your activity is within a disease control zone, make sure you check the restrictions applicable to that zone.

Once game birds have been released they are classified as wild birds. The person who released the game birds is no longer classed as the ‘keeper’ of the birds.

You can continue to feed and water released game birds but you should make reasonable efforts to minimise the chance of other wild birds accessing their feed and water, for example by placing it under cover. You should use commercial feed and fresh or treated water.

How to spot avian influenza

There are 2 types of avian influenza.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of neck and throat
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • fewer eggs laid
  • increased mortality

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species (for example ducks and geese) may show minimal clinical signs.

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and whether it has any other illnesses.

Anyone who keeps poultry must keep a close watch on them for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.

Photos of clinical signs

We’ve published some photos of clinical signs of avian influenza on Flickr.

How avian influenza is spread

The disease spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces. It can also be spread by contaminated feed and water or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear.

The avian influenza virus changes frequently, creating new strains, and there is a constant risk that one of the new strains may spread easily among people. But there is no evidence that any recent strain of avian influenza has been able to spread directly between people.

Avian influenza isn’t an airborne disease.

Advice for the public

Public health

Public Health England advise the risk to public health from the H5N8 and H5N2 strains of bird flu is very low. Some strains of avian influenza can pass to humans, but this is very rare. It usually requires very close contact between the human and infected birds.

The Food Standards Agency has said that on the basis of the current scientific evidence, avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

If you employ people who work with poultry or work with poultry yourself, you can also read Health and Safety Executive advice on protecting workers from avian influenza.

Wild birds

If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77).

We 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.

We publish a report (updated regularly) on findings of highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) in wild birds in Great Britain.

Movement controls and licences

Where bird flu is confirmed or suspected, we put in place restrictions on movements of birds in the area around the infected premises.

Check if you are in a disease control zone on our interactive map.

Where general or specific licences are available in relation to movements of poultry or poultry meat, they will be listed in this section.

Premises near Leominster, in Herefordshire

Avian influenza of the H5N8 strain (pathogenicity yet to be determined) was confirmed in broiler breeder chickens at a premises near Leominster, in Herefordshire on 11 November 2020.

All birds on the infected premises will be humanely culled to limit the spread of the disease. A 3km (Area A) and 10km (Area B) Temporary Control Zone has been put in place around the infected premises to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

Details of the measures that apply in the Temporary Control Zones can be found in the Declaration of a Temporary Control Zone (Avian Influenza) (PDF797KB14 pages).

This is unrelated to the low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) H5N2 outbreak near Deal, Kent that was confirmed on 2 November.

Licencing for Avian Influenza Temporary Control Zones (Herefordshire)

No general licences have been published for this incident. Poultry keepers can apply for licences for some low risk movements from the Temporary Control Zones.

For licensing queries in England, contact APHA:

Telephone: 03000 200 301

email: outbreak.licensing@apha.gov.uk

You should give the licensing team as much notice as possible to process the requests. Complex and high-risk movements will require extra time to assess and process.

Premises near Frodsham, Cheshire

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the H5N8 strain was confirmed at a premises near Frodsham in Cheshire which rears broiler breeder chickens on 2 November 2020. Testing has now confirmed this highly pathogenic strain is related to the virus currently circulating in Europe.

All birds on the infected premises will be humanely culled to limit the spread of the disease. A 3km Protection Zone and a 10km Surveillance Zone have been put in place around the infected premises to limit the risk of the disease spreading. These zones replace the Temporary Control Zones put in place on the 2 November 2020.

Details of the measures that apply in the Protection Zone and the Surveillance Zone can be found in the declaration.

Declaration of a Protection Zone and a Surveillance Zone (Avian Influenza) (PDF1.64MB14 pages). This declaration revokes and replaces the Declaration of a Temporary Control Zone (Avian Influenza) (PDF1.62MB14 pages) (declared on the 2 November).

This is unrelated to the low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) H5N2 outbreak near Deal, Kent that was confirmed on 2 November.

Licencing for Protection Zone and Surveillance Zone (Cheshire)

Poultry keepers can apply for licences for some low risk movements from the Protection and Surveillance Zones.

General licences

General licences allow a movement or activity that would otherwise be prohibited in England and Wales. You need to check that you meet and comply with the conditions of the general licence. If you do so, you do not need to apply – you can rely on the general licence as providing authority for the movement or activity.

General licences EXD249 and EXD264 are available for food business operators in England – see the ‘Meat from poultry within the Protection Zone’ section below (these titles are also available in Wales).

Specific licences

If you need to move something that is restricted in any Protection Zone or Surveillance Zones currently in force, you should apply to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Complete the Application requesting exemption from restrictions (EXD100) (MS Word Document282KB) form and email to outbreak.licensing@apha.gov.uk.

You should give the licensing team as much notice as possible to process the requests. Complex and high-risk movements will require extra time to assess and process.

If a licence is issued, it will allow a one-off movement and be subject to certain conditions based on disease control risk.

Meat from poultry within a Protection Zone in Cheshire, England

To reduce animal health risks, food business operators have to follow specific rules for any meat produced from poultry or farmed game birds originating within a Protection Zone. Other poultry meat (from poultry not originating within the Protection Zone) is unaffected.

Meat produced from poultry or farmed game birds originating within a Protection Zone can be moved or sold, subject to several conditions. These include a requirement that the health mark is replaced with a specific mark (approved by the Secretary of State in any particular disease outbreak) which must remain with it throughout any processing or repackaging. These conditions are set out in General Licence EXD249.

Under some specific circumstances – set out in General Licence EXD 264 – the recipient of poultry meat is permitted to remove the specific mark temporarily for production, and in some circumstance not to re-apply it.

The legal requirements are set out in each General Licence. See also more detailed explanation of the rules and how they work including production dates for each of the zone(s) where these special measures apply.

Premises near Deal, Kent

Low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) of the H5N2 strain has been confirmed at a small commercial premises near Deal in Kent on 2 November 2020.

All birds on the infected premises will be humanely culled to limit the spread of the disease. A 1km low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) Restricted Zone has been put in place around the infected farm to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

Details of the measures that apply in the Restricted Zone can be found in the declaration.

Declaration of a low pathogenic avian influenza restricted zone (PDF666KB5 pages). This declaration revokes and replaces the Declaration of a Temporary Movement Restriction Zone (Avian Influenza) (PDF556KB5 pages) (declared on the 1 November).

This case is unrelated to the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 outbreak near Frodsham, Cheshire that was also confirmed on 2 November.

Licencing for Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Restricted Zone (Kent)

No general licences have been published for this incident. Poultry keepers can apply for licences for some low risk movements from the Restricted Zone.

For licensing queries in England, contact APHA. Telephone: 03000 200 301, email: outbreak.licensing@apha.gov.uk.

You should give the licensing team as much notice as possible to process the requests. Complex and high-risk movements will require extra time to assess and process.

Bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings

Bird gatherings are currently not allowed to take place across England. The general licence has been withdrawn.

All markets, fairs, shows, exhibitions or other gatherings of birds (regardless of species) are banned within disease control zones in England. Gatherings are not allowed in Protection and Surveillance Zones declared for outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza or Restricted Zones declared for outbreaks of low pathogenic avian influenza.

There may be different arrangements in ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

The collection of wild game birds is not affected by these measures.

Compensation

You may be entitled to compensation if healthy poultry are killed under orders from government or APHA in the event of a disease outbreak. Owners are not entitled to compensation solely as a result of the requirements of a disease control zone or for other consequential losses.

Trade, import and export issues

collection of guidance and forms for importing and exporting live animals or animal products is available.

Exports and EU trade

Following confirmation of one Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N8 outbreak in ‘Cheshire West and Chester’ district of England and one Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) H5N2 outbreak near Dover District, England the UK is no longer free from notifiable avian influenza under the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) rules.

Where disease is confirmed, we put in place measures in accordance with Council Directive 2005/94/EC. The EU will put safeguard measures in place, meaning that no trade with the EU in live poultry or poultry products will be permitted from either the Restricted Zone in Kent or the Protection Zone or Surveillance Zone in Cheshire.

Imports from the EU

You can’t import poultry and poultry products into the UK from within disease control zones imposed around confirmed cases of avian flu within other EU countries.

EU trade relies on strict certification for movement of live poultry, day old chicks and hatching eggs. Products such as poultry meat, table eggs and poultry products are not subject to certification within the EU.

Higher Risk Areas (HRAs)

All areas in Great Britain remain at risk of bird flu in wild birds.

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.

If all or part of your premises is in a Higher Risk Area 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.

We have defined HRA’s following our experience over the last 2 winters, coupled with the latest scientific and veterinary opinion. This indicates that migratory wild waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans) and gulls pose a continual threat for the introduction of bird flu into premises where poultry, game birds, pet and other captive birds are kept. EU regulations require that member states identify areas of the country where the risk of bird flu is deemed to be highest. We have published more detail of the rationale and approach behind Higher Risk Areas.

If you are planning a new poultry unit you should take into account the risk of HPAI where the unit is planned.

Prevention Zone

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (PDF39.1KB6 pages) (AIPZ) has been declared across the whole of England effective from 5pm on 11 November 2020.

Declarations for an AIPZ in Scotland and Wales have also been made by the Scottish Government and Welsh Government. The decision to implement this AIPZ follows a risk assessment containing the latest scientific and ornithological evidence and veterinary advice.

All poultry keepers in England (whether they have commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock) are required by law to take a range of biosecurity precautions. The AIPZ means extra biosecurity measures must be done by all bird keepers (including game birds and pet birds) to protect them from the risk of avian influenza from wild birds.

Older cases of avian flu

A case of low pathogenic avian influenza (H5N3) was confirmed at a commercial chicken farm in Mid Suffolk was confirmed on 10 December 2019. We published an epidemiological report summarising our investigations into the case.

The H5N6 strain of avian influenza was confirmed in 21 wild birds between January and June 2018. There were no cases in poultry.

A number of cases of avian influenza were confirmed between December 2016 and June 2017. The H5N8 strain of avian influenza was confirmed at farms in Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, and in backyard flocks in Lancashire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, and Carmarthenshire. Full details of these cases are now available on the National Archives website. The same strain of the virus was also found in wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales.

We have published two reports setting out our investigations into these cases, covering December 2016 to March 2017, and April to May 2017 – these are known as epidemiological reports.

A case of low severity (H5N1) avian influenza (bird flu) was confirmed by the Scottish authorities on a poultry breeding farm in Dunfermline in January 2016. We published an epidemiological report summarising our investigations into the case.

A case of H7N7 avian flu was confirmed near Preston, Lancashire in July 2015. A low severity case of H7N7 was confirmed in February 2015 in chickens at a farm in Hampshire. A case of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 was confirmed in November 2014 in ducks on premises in East Yorkshire. We have published reports about the investigations we carried out. Earlier papers about these cases are available on the National Archives website.

Control strategy

Disease control strategy

Cases of avian influenza, if they occur, are controlled by following the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases and the notifiable avian disease control strategy. You can read what happens when a notifiable disease is suspected or confirmed.

Legislation on avian influenza

The legislation covering avian influenza includes:

Enforcement

Avian influenza controls are enforced by local authorities.

Penalties for offences

Breach of controls is an offence, with an unlimited fine on summary conviction and up to 3 months’ imprisonment per offence.

Published 26 August 2014
Last updated 11 November 2020