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Bird Flu – Advice on Shows and Exercising Birds

Given the increasing level of Avian Influenza restrictions present in the UK, we wish to provide some clarity in relation to pigeon shows and exercising pigeons. Please note, this information is accurate as of 30th November 2021. Please continue to visit the RPRA website or social media for updates.

The following advice is published jointly by the RPRA and APHA/Defra.

What is the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) and does it and the housing measures apply to racing pigeons?

From 00:01 on 29 November 2021 housing measures are in force across the UK. These measures are in addition to the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) enhanced biosecurity requirements which have been in force across GB since 3 November 2021 (and across NI from 17 November 2021), and mean that it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK (whether they have pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock or loft) to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.

Hence, racing pigeons must be housed or where not possible kept in a fully netted/covered area which keeps kept birds separate from wild birds and minimises contact with wild bird faeces, feathers etc. Updated biosecurity guidance and a biosecurity self-assessment checklist have been published by Defra, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and DAERA. These documents include details of biosecurity best practice and further guidance on measures that bird keepers must take in the AIPZ including key guidance on the mandatory housing measures.

See the relevant administrations website below for further information on the latest situation, biosecurity guidance and the requirements of the AIPZ with housing measures declarations in force across the UK from 00:01 29 November 2021:

England: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu
Scotland: www.gov.scot/avianinfluenza
Wales: https://gov.wales/avian-influenza-bird-flu
DAERA: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/avian-influenza-ai

Can I still fly my pigeons now housing measures have been introduced to the AIPZ?

While the AIPZ with housing measures is in force, in recognition of their welfare requirements pigeons can be let out briefly each day for exercise for up to an hour, provided pigeon keepers act responsibly. For example, this could be for a brief period before feeding, say half an hour, which will ensure the return of the birds promptly when the feed goes out. At which point they should be shut in again.

Lofts must not be left open for several hours for the birds to come and go as they please. Contact between the pigeons either directly or indirectly with wild birds must be minimised wherever possible. Where pigeon owners are not acting responsibly, a firmer line may need to be taken, which will result in the birds being kept in full time.

You may train birds as a single loft but must not mix birds from other lofts (this would constitute a gathering and must be notified to the APHA 7 days in advance and comply with all the requirements of the relevant bird gatherings general licence).

Can I fly my pigeons in disease control zones surrounding infected premises?

If your birds are located in a 10km Surveillance Zone or 10km Area B Temporary Control Zone:

  • Pigeons can be let out briefly each day for exercise for up to an hour. For example, this could be for a brief period before feeding, say half an hour, which will ensure the return of the birds promptly when the feed goes out. At which point they should be shut in again. Lofts must not be left open for several hours for the birds to come and go as they please. Contact between the pigeons either directly or indirectly with wild birds must be minimised wherever possible.

If your birds are located in the 3km Protection Zone or 3km Area A Temporary Control Zone:

  • Your birds must be housed at all times until preliminary cleaning and disinfection has been completed at the infected premises and the initial epidemiological investigations have been completed, to ensure there are no high-risk contacts to your loft (for example workers, veterinary visits, feed deliveries, visitors, etc.).
  • Once this has been completed you will be able to exercise your birds in line with the guidance for 10km surveillance zones.
  • If you think there may be welfare issues for your birds, exercising may be allowed before this only following agreement from an official veterinary welfare request and obtaining a licence to do so.

Bird gatherings are not permitted within a disease control zone hence birds that are not already housed together in the same loft/on the same premises must not be flown together in disease control zones, as this constitutes a bird gathering. The location of the disease control zones currently in force can be viewed using the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) interactive map.

Gatherings include (but are not limited to) bird fairs, markets, shows, sales, exhibitions, and some premises used for dealing or internet sales. In addition, vehicles used to transport live birds where the birds are brought together from multiple premises (so called many-to-one or many-to-many activities) and races and training events where pigeons from multiple premises are brought together are also considered gatherings.

How will you enforce this?

Breaching the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) requirements is an offence under section 73 of the Animal Health Act 1981. Avian influenza controls including the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) are enforced by the Local Authority Animal Health Function (LAAHF) which is normally situated within the Trading Standards or Environmental Health Service of a local authority. See this postcode tool to find details of how to contact your LAAHF with any reports of non-compliance. Local authorities have a proportionate approach to non-compliance in place.

What about Gatherings?

Gatherings include (but are not limited to) bird fairs, markets, shows, sales, exhibitions, and some premises used for dealing or internet sales. In addition, vehicles used to transport live birds where the birds are brought together from multiple premises (so called many-to-one or many-to-many activities) are also considered gatherings.

Bird gatherings are not permitted within a disease control zone, outside of these areas bird gatherings are only permitted if licensed. Check the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) interactive map to see the location of disease control zones currently in force. Anyone who had registered a bird gathering with APHA which now cannot take place because it would be located in a disease control zone will be contacted by APHA.

Bird gathering general licences have been made available by Defra, Scottish Government and Welsh Government permitting bird gatherings in England, Scotland, and Wales respectively including in areas where an enhanced Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) with housing measures is in place (but not in disease control zones surrounding infected premises), provided they have been notified to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) at least 7 days before the event and that the gathering meets all the requirements of the relevant general licence.

However, the bird gatherings general licence currently available each of the three GB administrations do not permit gatherings of poultry (Galliformes or Anseriformes birds). Galliforme birds include pheasants, partridge, quail, chickens, turkey and guinea fowl. Anseriforme birds include ducks, geese and swans. Gatherings of all other types of birds including pigeons are still permitted, provided that the APHA has been notified of the gathering at least 7 days before the event and that the gathering meets all the requirements of the general licence.

Further guidance for bird gatherings has been published on GOV.UK. Definitive requirements are set out in the published General Licence for the relevant administration (England, Wales and Scotland).

The status of the bird gatherings general licence will be kept under regular review as part of the government’s work to monitor and manage the risks of avian influenza, and any decisions on amending or withdrawing the general licence will be based on risk assessments containing the latest scientific and ornithological evidence and veterinary advice.

Changes to the bird gatherings General Licence have also been made in Northern Ireland effective from 00:01 on the 17 November 2021 poultry gatherings will not be permitted in Northern Ireland. See the DAERA website for further information.

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