Bird flu UK 2022: Defra ‘bird lockdown’ explained amid ‘largest ever’ outbreak of avian flu across the UK

All captive birds in the UK - be they commercial chickens or pets - have had to be kept indoors since November 2021 to stop the spread of bird flu

It is unknown how long the legal bird housing measures will last for (image: Shutterstock)

The UK is still in the grip of a wave of Omicron Covid variant cases.

So news that a man in England has caught a strain of bird flu that’s currently sweeping the UK and Europe might have got your pulse racing just a little bit.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Government and medical bodies have, however, insisted the risk to humans remains low.

But the news is less rosy for the UK’s bird population, which has had to live through a‘bird lockdown’ that’s been introduced to stem the tide of avian influenza cases sweeping the country.

So what do the new bird housing restrictions mean - and why do they matter?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is bird flu?

Bird flu is a form of the influenza virus - the same family of viruses which cause flu in humans.

These are totally different to coronaviruses - the family which Covid-19 belongs to.

Also known as avian influenza, it is so called because it tends to affect birds more than humans.

2021’s variant of the virus appears to be hitting the UK harder and earlier than it did last winter (image: Shutterstock)

The virus either has low pathogenicity - i.e. it isn’t too damaging to health - or high pathogenicity, whereby it can be fatal.

Birds infected with low pathogenicity flu tend to have minor breathing problems and might not produce as many eggs.

Meanwhile, those with highly pathogenic strains can display a whole host of symptoms.

These include: unresponsiveness, closed and excessively watery eyes, a swollen head and tremoring.

What does the UK-wide bird flu housing order mean?

The UK-wide housing measures mean all captive birds, whether they be commercially farmed chickens or pets, must be kept indoors.

It has been introduced because there are at least 65 active cases of highly pathogenic bird flu in wild, commercial and pet birds across England, Scotland and Wales.

The legal measures came into force on 29 November 2021.

The legal housing measures mean all chickens will have to be kept indoors, even if they’re free range (image: Shutterstock)

This is to ensure that there can be no contact between captive birds and wild birds which might be carrying the disease.

These housing restrictions have already been in place in Yorkshire this week due to a high concentration of cases in the area.

It is unclear how long they will be in place for.

Housing measures were enforced in the UK last winter when a previous outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza swept across the country.

But 2021’s variant of the virus appears to be hitting the UK harder and earlier than last winter’s version.

Why does bird flu matter?

Bird flu matters because it can damage the supply chains of some of the UK’s key foods, like chicken and eggs.

If the virus gets onto a farm, all the birds there would have to be culled in a bid to stop it from spreading.

On the biggest farms, this could mean tens of thousands of birds are killed and won’t make it onto the nation’s dinner plates.

By introducing strong biosecurity measures and the nationwide housing order, the likelihood of mass cullings and any threat to food supply are greatly reduced.

However, it does mean that British free range chicken and eggs on sale in supermarkets will not actually be from birds that have been able to roam freely outside.

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our email newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.