A HOUSING order that has kept poultry and captive bird cooped up throughout the winter is to be lifted next week.

The Housing Order was brought in last November to tackle the spread of avian influenza, meaning that farmers and keepers had to legally keep their birds indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures.

The risk from bird flu has recently been downgraded by Defra from high to medium and as such, the housing order is to be lifted on Tuesday, 18 April.

Enhanced biosecurity requirements which were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) in December will however stay in place.

This includes a mandatory biosecurity self-assessment checklist to be undertaken by all poultry and captive bird keepers.

The Welsh Government has worked closely with partners across Great Britain, the industry and keepers to ensure proportionate biosecurity measures have been in place to help keep flocks safe. The housing measures have been an important tool in protecting birds from avian influenza, which continues to circulate in wild birds.

Bird keepers are being encouraged to use the next week to prepare for release of their birds – particularly their outdoor areas, including cleaning and disinfecting equipment.

Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Richard Irvine said: “I am pleased to be able to confirm the lifting of the compulsory housing order will take place in Wales on 18 April.

“I know this will be welcome news for bird keepers, who have housed their birds since December, and I want to thank them for all their efforts in keeping their flocks safe.

“What is essential now is that keepers, whether it be for a few birds or thousands, keep practicing rigorous hygiene and biosecurity measures to prevent outbreaks of avian influenza.

“This includes continuing to complete the mandatory biosecurity self-assessment checklist to help keepers identify what is needed to protect their birds.

“It’s also vital everyone remains vigilant for any signs of disease in their birds and wild birds, reports it and seeks advice immediately if they have any concerns.”

The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ), which covers all of Wales, remains in place. As before, this requires keepers of poultry and other captive birds to take appropriate and practicable steps to prevent avian influenza, including:

• Keeping kept birds off land that is known to be, or at high risk of being, frequented by wild waterfowl, or contaminated by their droppings or feathers.

• Ensure the areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds, especially waterfowl, for example, by netting ponds and surrounding areas and by removing wild bird food sources;

• Feed and water birds in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds;

• Minimise movement of people in and out of bird enclosures;

• Clean and disinfect footwear, use foot dips before entering poultry enclosures, and keep areas where birds live clean and tidy;

• Ensure all bedding, equipment, clothing and anything else that enters the areas where birds are kept are free of direct or indirect contamination with HPAI, which is mainly spread through bird droppings.

• Keep domestic ducks and geese separate from other poultry.

All of these steps are important in protecting birds. Alongside these, completing the mandatory biosecurity self-assessment can further help keepers identify the measures needed to be taken to ensure the safety of their flock.

Findings of dead wild birds should continue to be reported to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 and keepers should continue to promptly report suspicion of disease in their birds to APHA on 0300 303 8268.