Only days before Scotland’s free-range poultry are allowed back outdoors following the easing of bird flu restrictions, the Government’s chief vet has appealed to owners to make their range as unattractive to wild birds as possible.
The highly pathogenic strain, H5N8 is still spreading across Europe and there have been nine confirmed cases in England and Wales causing widespread deaths in the birds affected. The virus has also been found in numerous wild birds, including in Scotland.
Last week Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing bowed to pressure from the free-range poultry industry to lift the restriction on housing birds indoors. Keepers were concerned that they would lose their free-range status under EU law if they continued to house stock.
However Mr Ewing renewed the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone until at least the end of April.
Now chief vet Sheila Voas says that if keepers intend to release their birds from the end of this month they need to take steps immediately in order to protect their flocks.
In a public letter she advises keepers to net ponds and drain waterlogged areas of land.
She adds: “If this isn’t possible, then can you fence them off from your birds so they cannot access it whilst ranging, or use an alternative paddock that doesn’t have access to water?”
Ms Voas also advises that feeders and water stations should be removed from the range, or covered to sufficiently restrict access by wild birds; using decoy predators or other livestock (such as sheep or cattle) on the range; allowing dogs to accompany keepers on foot patrols around the range; and using bird scarers if their use is appropriate for the area.
She also asks keepers to consider increasing the number of shelters on the range.