Avian Influenza protocols
Low Pathogenic (LPAI) forms of Avian Influenza are endemic in both poultry and wild birds but may develop into High Pathogenic (HPAI) forms, which can kill birds quickly. Some strains of avian influenza can pass to humans, but this is very rare and Public Health England advises the risk to public health from the H5N8 and H5N2 strains of bird flu is very low. More information can be found on the Government website here.
AI in wild bird populations is most likely to be encountered in winter, when wildfowl arrive in the UK. There is potential for transmission between wild birds and poultry during this period if the latter are housed outside; transportation of livestock provides another route of transmission between commercial premises.
Response to UK outbreaks in captive birds
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), which is part of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) issues alerts when an outbreak of AI is detected in wild or captive birds (typically, but not exclusively, poultry) within the UK. Temporary Control Zones are put in place around the premises initially, which are then upgraded to a 3 km Protection Zone and a 10 km Surveillance Zone within which movements of poultry are banned. An interactive map of such zones currently in place is available here and information about any current outbreaks (and more general information) is published on the BTO website here.
The BTO is a recipient of these alerts from APHA. On receipt, we email any ringer a) whose rings have been used within the 10 km Control or Surveillance Zones within the last five years, or b) who lives within it, to ask them to suspend ringing and to tell anyone they may know who has used their rings within the affected area to do the same. There is no requirement for ringers to take any action if not contacted by BTO but we would always recommend that you familiarise yourself with the best practice documentation concerning hygiene here.
The duration of the suspension is variable and cannot be predicted at the outset. APHA will contact BTO when the suspension is lifted and BTO will inform the relevant ringers that ringing can recommence.
Response to UK outbreaks in wild birds
All areas in Great Britain remain at risk of bird flu in wild birds and APHA have 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. Where there is confirmation of AI in wild birds, no Protection or Surveillance Zone is set and there is therefore no equivalent suspension of ringing activities. We would, however, ask ringers in the proximity of a confirmed case in a wild bird to consider whether they are able to modify their activities and to ensure that they are maintaining good hygiene at all times (see guidance for ringers here).
Response to outbreaks in the Republic of Ireland (RoI)
The winter of 2020 is the first time that Avian Influenza has been detected in RoI and no equivalent to the UK protocol currently exists; we are working with the relevant government departments to develop a standard response and will update this webpage once it has been finalised. Note that, to date, all detected outbreaks in RoI have related to wild birds and no suspension of ringing activities would have been implemented under existing UK protocols.