New compulsory bird registration rules

Regardless of the size of the flock, Defra has announced compulsory registration requirements for all bird keepers to combat avian influenza outbreaks.

Chickens roaming in grass

To date, only those who kept 50 or more poultry required to register, but according to Defra this limits the effectiveness of our national disease control measures. Under the new changes, all birds must be officially registered. The registration deadline for England and Wales keepers is the 1st of October 2024, whilst in Scotland, keepers must register birds from the 1st of September 2024 – to coincide with the new Scottish Kept Bird Register.

The changes come following the UK’s worst ever outbreak of avian influenza, with more than 360 cases across Great Britain since late October 2021, including in a significant number of backyard flocks. Through registering their birds, keepers will receive important updates such as on local avian disease outbreaks and information on biosecurity rules to help protect their flocks. The news measure will help to manage potential disease outbreaks, such as avian influenza and Newcastle disease, and limit any spread.

According to Defra, the information on the register will also be used to identify all bird keepers in disease control zones, allowing for more effective surveillance, so that zones can be lifted at the earliest possible opportunity and trade can resume more quickly following an outbreak of avian disease in Great Britain.

The new rules cover owners of backyard flocks, birds of prey and pigeon fanciers, but do not affect caged pet birds (excluding any poultry species) kept entirely inside a domestic dwelling, such as a parrot, canary or budgie, which never leaves the property other than to visit a vet or another short-term period. Bird keepers will need to provide information, including their contact details, the location where birds are kept and details of the birds (species, number and what they are kept for).

The proposal follows a 2023 consultation and takes forward the recommendation from the 2018 Dame Glenys Stacey Review and lessons identified from the 2021/2022 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 outbreak and previous HPAI outbreaks. This change to bird registration is required in order to protect the health of all poultry and other captive birds in GB and also public health.

Christine Middlemiss, UK Chief Veterinary Officer said: “These new rules will enable us to have a full picture of the number and location of birds kept across Great Britain, making it easier to track and manage the spread of avian disease. This information will be vital in helping to inform future risk assessments and maintain our commitment to continually building our extensive avian influenza research portfolio.”

Sheila Voas, CVO Scotland said: “These changes to bird registration are a necessary step to help protect the health of kept birds and the general public from future avian disease risks. We have faced challenges during previous outbreaks in clearly communicating the changes in both risk and mandatory biosecurity requirements to bird keepers, particularly smallholders and backyard keepers. This approach will enable us all to be better prepared and protected against a future pandemic.”

Richard Irvine, CVO Wales said: “The new registration requirements will make it easier for bird keepers and government to work together to track and control the spread of notifiable avian diseases in Wales. APHA will also be able to contact bird keepers if there’s a notifiable disease outbreak in their area, for example bird flu, which in turn will help prevent the spread of disease and protect flocks. It is important to remember that scrupulous hygiene and biosecurity remain essential to protect flocks from the threat of disease. Bird keepers have worked hard to protect their birds from the risks of avian influenza and I want to thank them for their continued efforts.”

Richard Griffiths, BPC Chief Executive, said: “New registration requirements are a good step towards supporting birdkeepers and Government to collaborate seamlessly to combat disease spread. Timely communication ensures all birdkeepers receive important updates and stay informed, amplifying efforts to work together to track and control the spread of avian influenza. Alongside stringent biosecurity measures, registration is another tool in the toolbox to safeguard bird health.”

The requirements will be set out in legislation shortly and keepers will also be legally required to update their information on an annual basis.