Everyone keeping chickens in England - even if it’s just a couple of pet hens - is legally required to keep them indoors or separate from wild birds.
That’s because avian influenza has been found both in wild and captive birds.
In order to prevent the disease from spreading, all poultry keepers must have strict biosecurity measures in place.
If any infected birds are found on a farm then the entire flock has to be slaughtered.
The three chief veterinary officers of Great Britain said: “Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now 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, but it is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”
Mrs Elizabeth Grosvenor keeps three chickens in her Hillmorton back garden.
She said: “Keeping hens is a wonderful pastime with the very welcome bonus of fresh eggs. It is important in times of bird flu to keep our girls away from wild birds to keep them safe.”
She added: “We love to spoil our hens so they have a large run. We also keep them entertained with mirrors, bark to dig and treats hanging in their coop. Hopefully the flu warnings will be stood down before too long so our darlings can be back in our garden investigating what we are up to!”
The risk to human health from avian influenza is low, says the Government.
However, some strains of bird flu in the past have made the jump from animals to humans. The highly pathogenic H5N8 was found in seven Russian farm workers for the first time at the end of February 2021, although no human to human transmission has been reported. The H5N8 strain was first identified on a poultry farm in Saudi Arabia in February last year and killed more than 22,000 birds within a few weeks.1
Chicken rehoming organisation Fresh Start for Hens suggests: “To prevent contact between migrating birds and captive poultry/fowl, a solid roof or netting should be placed over the top of all runs. Scaffold or debris netting, available from eBay or any hardware store is a quick and cheap solution and will meet with Government requirements.”
The legal requirements came into force on 14th December and were reviewed on 6th February.
Anyone who keeps poultry or other captive birds must keep a close watch on them for any signs of disease and seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.
Avian influenza is not connected to the COVID-19 pandemic as the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not carried by poultry.
Campaigning organisation Compassion in World Farming produced a report on the link between food systems and pandemics