Many farms struggling with an unprecedented outbreak of bird flu

By Chris Wright, Partner and ARA specialist

The UK faces its largest-ever outbreak of avian flu, with more than 150 cases confirmed since late October 2021, according to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

More than three million farmed birds have already been culled due to the virus and farmers fear that more may need to be killed when migratory birds start to arrive in the UK in the weeks ahead.

A new, highly pathogenic form of avian flu known as H5N1 has been ravaging poultry flocks and wild bird populations across the northern hemisphere, leaving UK bodies calling for urgent, decisive government action.

Protection zones have been introduced across the East of England, which contains more than a fifth of England’s poultry farms and produces around 41 per cent of the country’s turkeys.

There have been regular outbreaks of H5N1 since its spread from Southern China in 1996, but the reason farmers are particularly worried now is that birds like seagulls, pheasants and crows have also been found dead from the disease and, once established, it is very difficult to get the disease under control.

According to some poultry farmers, the only way to deal with the disease is vaccination, especially for free-range and organic farmers whose flocks are exposed to contact with wild birds. However, Defra does not permit the use of vaccination in the UK.

Instead, Defra advises that keepers with more than 500 birds should restrict access for non-essential people and that workers on those sites should change clothing and footwear before entering enclosures and should clean and disinfect vehicles regularly.

Have you been affected by the impact of avian flu and need advice about your finances? We are here to help.