BIRD flu has been detected in 17 wild birds in Dorset, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed, with more expected over the coming days.

An avian influenza prevention zone now applies to everyone who keeps poultry or captive birds in an area of south Dorset including Weymouth and Portland.

All keepers in this prevention zone must follow the government's detailed requirements on strict biosecurity, whether they have commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock.

It has been reported that mute swans, one Canada Goose and one Potchard Duck at Abbotsbury Swannery have been affected.

This is the first case of HPAI in the UK this winter and, although the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is not expected to raise the risk level for poultry, poultry keepers have been urged to raise vigilance and enhance biosecurity now that the virus is circulating in England.

This is the first confirmed finding of the virus in the UK this winter and tests have shown it is closely related to the H5N6 strain that has been circulating in wild birds across Europe in recent months.

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This is different to the strains which affected people in China last year and Public Health England have advised the risk to public health is very low. 

The Food Standards Agency have said that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. 

UK Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens, said: “This is the first time avian flu has been identified in the UK this winter and while the disease does not represent a threat to the public, it is highly infectious and deadly to birds. 

“As the virus has been circulating across Europe, this finding has not come as a surprise. But it is vital that anyone who keeps birds - whether a few in a back garden or thousands on a farm - is vigilant for any signs of disease, reports suspect disease to APHA and maintains good biosecurity to reduce the risk of their birds becoming infected.”

While there is no legislative requirement to put restrictions in place when this strain of virus is found in wild birds, the Chief Veterinary Officer has confirmed local measures will be introduced to help manage the potential threat.

A local ‘avian influenza prevention zone’ will be introduced in the area of Dorset where the diseased birds were found.

This means it will be mandatory for all captive bird keepers to put enhanced biosecurity measures in place such as feeding and watering birds indoors to minimise mixing with wild birds, minimising movement in and out of bird enclosures, cleaning and disinfecting footwear and keeping areas where birds live clean and tidy.

This will be in place until further notice and will be kept under regular review.

There are no plans to carry out any culls or put movement restrictions in place.

No one was available for comment at Abbotsbury Swannery.

The swannery is currently closed for the winter. A notice on the website says it is due to reopen on March 17.

Meanwhile, at Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park, access to the penguin enclosure is being restricted.

A notice on the website says: "Following the recent outbreak of Avian Influenza we’ve taken the precautionary measure of closing access to both the upper and lower viewing areas of our penguin enclosure.

"All our penguins are safe and well and you will still be able to spot them through the viewing windows around the sides of the area. We will update in due course on how long the closure will be in place."

The risk to domestic poultry nationally remains low, however good biosecurity is essential and bird keepers across the country are reminded to follow biosecurity advice on which includes specific advice for keepers of backyard flocks. 

Poultry keepers and members of the public should report dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 and keepers should report suspicion of disease to APHA on 03000 200 301. Further avian influenza advice, including how to spot the disease, is available on

Trade should not be affected following the findings in wild birds, according to the rules of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE).

Dorset County Council says poultry keepers need to remain vigilant and follow the advice on the Defra website. The guidance applies just as much if you only have  afew birds as pets, or if you have a large commercial flock.

If you are concerned that poultry keepers in Dorset are not protecting their birds, contact Trading Standards.

For advice from Defra follow a link here 

Defra says anyone who keeps poultry within this new Prevention Zone is required by law to follow specific disease prevention measures to reduce the risk of infection from wild birds. The requirements apply to all keepers of birds, regardless of flock size or if your birds are pets.

Keepers within the Prevention Zone can allow birds outdoors into fenced areas provided the areas meet certain conditions including:

  • you have made the areas unattractive to wild birds, for example by netting ponds, and by removing wild bird food sources
  • you have taken action to reduce any existing contamination, such as cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off wet or boggy areas
  • you have assessed the risk of birds coming into contact with wild birds or contamination from them

If you keep more than 500 birds, you must take some extra biosecurity measures. They include identifying clearly defined areas where access by non-essential people and vehicles is restricted, and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles, equipment and footwear.

The risk to poultry and other captive birds depends, amongst other things, on the level of biosecurity on the premises and the likely contact between kept birds and wild birds, which is why it is essential that all keepers remain vigilant and ensure they practice the highest standards of biosecurity.

You can find out if you are in the local ‘avian influenza prevention zone’ by typing in your postcode at a link here