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As of the 16th December 2021 there had been 57 confirmed cases of AI, at least 2 of which were in breeding pheasants. At the time of writing outbreaks continue to be reported on a near daily basis.
Where does AI come from?
The AI virus is brought to the UK by migrating wild birds, which may mix with native wild birds, gamebirds, and any free ranging poultry, causing outbreaks of the disease. Waterfowl are more resistant to the virus, enabling them to spread it further, and result in ponds, lakes, and waterways being the areas of greatest infection risk.
AI is spread by direct bird-to-bird contact, or through indirect contact with items contaminated with faeces or fluid from infected birds, such as feeders, clothes, boots, and vehicles.
What symptoms do infected birds show?
AI cases are categorised as low pathogenicity or high pathogenicity, which can affect the severity of symptoms seen. In cases of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) symptoms may include respiratory signs (snicking, gaping, gasping, etc.), decreased feed and water intake, diarrhoea, and swollen heads. These symptoms are similar to many other diseases, such as Mycoplasma, and will be more obvious in overwintered breeding birds than released birds. Contact your vet if you have any concerns.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) causes high mortality, in up to 100% of birds. This will not only affect gamebirds, but also local wildlife, such as birds of prey. These birds can show blue discoloration of areas such as the head, and live birds may show respiratory signs.
If you have any concerns about AI in captive birds or an area of your shoot, call a game vet or the APHA. Where possible, don’t leave the affected area and if you must do so, ensure you don’t go to or through any other areas where birds are present. This will reduce the risk of you spreading the virus to more birds.
Please note that AI is a Notifiable Disease, and it is an offence to not report suspected AI outbreaks to the APHA.
What will happen if I suspect AI?
The APHA will discuss the situation with either the reporting gamekeeper or vet and decide if further investigations are necessary. Where this is the case, they will visit the site to collect samples for testing. Until test results are known the site will be under restrictions limiting movements on and off the site. If AI is confirmed at this site, or any nearby site, restrictions will continue to be imposed.
For more information on these restrictions contact your game vet or visit the APHA AI website (details below).
How can we prevent the spread of AI?
Whilst we can’t always control wild birds, we can implement biosecurity to limit the risk of spreading AI. Specific biosecurity measures will depend on the site and should be discussed with your vet, but might include the following:
For further biosecurity advice and a self-assessment checklist visit the APHA AI website (details below).
Can I catch breeding birds in 2022?
At present we can’t predict exactly what will be happening early next year, but it is highly likely that AI will affect the catching and transportation of breeding birds.
The Housing Order limits how birds can be kept and transported, and local AI outbreaks generate additional limitations.
Before catching up please contact your game vet for advice on current restrictions and how to proceed.
How do I stay up to date?
Every day the AI situation is changing. To stay up to date, register for updates with the APHA. They will send text and email alerts of AI outbreaks and changes to legislation so you can remain informed.
You can also get news and updates from the APHA AI website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu
Report suspected AI to the Defra Rural Services helpline on 03000 200 301 (England) or 0300 303 8268 (Wales). In Scotland contact the local Field Services Office (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/animal-and-plant-health-agency/about/access-and-opening#scotland-field-service-offices), and in Northern Ireland call the Divisional Veterinary Office on 0300 200 7840.
If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77 – please select option 7). AI is a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted to humans from infected birds, so do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.