AVIAN FLU  has returned to the UK and if it arrives in Powys it could decimate the poultry farms.

Powys poultry farmers are being warned to take steps to protect their birds from possible infection.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed on Friday, January 12 that Avian Influenza of the H5N6 strain has been detected in 17 wild birds, mainly swans, in Dorset.

Public Health England have advised the risk to public health is very low with the Food Standards Agency also offering reassurance that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

Defra has confirmed that this is different to the strains which affected people in China last year.

Hafren Veterinary Group which has offices in Newtown, Llanidloes, Crossgates and Knighton are warning that poultry farmers need to be vigilant and make sure that chickens and turkeys are kept away from migratory wildfolw.

Ian Jones, owner of the Hafren Veterinary Group, said: “This is the first confirmed finding of the virus in the UK this winter.

“The UK Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) Nigel Gibbens has stated that, although it does not represent a threat to public, it is highly infectious and deadly to birds.

“There have been a number of cases of H5N6 virus in wild birds in Europe in recent months.”

“Powys, particularly Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire, is one of the most densely populated poultry areas within the UK.

“There are a particularly large number of commercial free range laying farms in the area.

“The commercial farms tend to have very good biosecurity to keep birds away from other birds, and visitors and vehicles away to reduce the risk of avian influenza and its catastrophic consequences of the disease.

“It is very important that everyone who has poultry takes steps to reduce the risks to their poultry including those with just a few hens.

If someone with just a few hens had birds to go down with avian influenza government restrictions would immediately come into effect restricting movements of birds, feed and eggs.

“This could have a disastrous effect on all those commercial farms in the area.

“ Consequently anyone with poultry has a very great responsibility to reduce the risks of avian influenza in their birds both for their own birds but also for all other people and businesses with birds.”

Avian influenza usually causes very rapid death in chickens and turkeys, but waterfowl such as swans, ducks and geese can carry the disease without showing any signs of ill health.

Migratory waterfowl visit the UK, including Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire, and these migratory birds are believed to be the source of new infections annually.

Mr Jones, continued: “It is very important those with chickens and turkeys keep them separate from wild birds especially ducks, geese and swans.

“Those with poultry should discourage waterfowl from contact with their domestic poultry by measures such as using fenced enclosures and not allowing wild birds access to poultry feed.”

For more information and guidance about biosecurity measures visit www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu