FARMERS have told of the "nightmare" of dealing with an order in Scotland that poultry and captive birds must be kept indoors, following an alert over a potentially fatal bird flu virus.

The Scottish Government declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone on Tuesday requiring that all poultry and captive birds must be kept indoors, or otherwise kept separate from wild birds, as it seeks to prevent an outbreak of the virus.

A type of highly pathogenic avian flu, H5N8, has been found in dead wild birds in over a dozen countries across Europe, from Poland to France.

Read more: Scotland orders poultry indoors under emergency bird flu measures

Although no cases have been found in Scotland and the rest of the UK, it is feared the winter bird migration season heightens the risk of the strain being spread.

Craig Harrower, who keeps 1600 birds, including chickens, geese and ducks on the 800-acre Craigievern Farm, near Drymen, Stirlingshire believed the lockdown was an "overreaction" and Some have complained that they were not officially notified, and found out through other sources, despite being registered as poultry keepers.


The farmer has created a meshed in enclosure for his birds to comply with the lockdown  Credit: Craigievern Poultry

"The authorities never even notified us. We are registered as poultry keepers and they never notified. My wife saw it on Facebook. I can't believe it."

Mr Harrower, who with his wife, Jane, have had to put his free range birds in huts normally designed to let them out and ensure they stay indoors, says the lockdown is an "overreaction".

He added: "It's a nightmare, because all our birds are free range. It's an absolute nightmare for us, trying to keep everything in, because the huts are designed to let them out first thing.

Read more: Scotland orders poultry indoors under emergency bird flu measures

"The birds are all trying to get out because they are used to getting out every day. But we can't let them out. It's a damn shame for them. "They need to relax the rules because thirty days is a nightmare, especially this time of the year. Birds are better outside."

He said he is having to take advice on whether he can market his eggs as free-range now.

Another farmer who did not want to be identified, said the "information cascade needs to be tightened" after finding out about the order through news reports.

The World Health Organisation has confirmed that the risk of transmission from birds to humans remains "relatively low" but has warned that it is "important to be vigilant".

The H5N8 virus has never been detected in humans, unlike some other strains, but it led to the cull of millions of farm birds in Asia in 2014 before spreading to Europe.

The Scottish Government says the prevention zone is a precautionary step. Similar measures were declared in England.


Within the zone bird keepers are legally obliged to take all practicable steps to ensure that poultry and other captive birds are kept separate from wild birds - in most cases this will be by keeping birds housed.

The government action comes 11 months after 40,000 birds were culled after an outbreaks of the "very mild" strain of H5N1 bird flu was confirmed on Craigie's Poultry Farm, near Dunfermline.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are working hard to make sure as many people who keep birds and poultry are made aware of the need to take precautions to prevent against avian influenza reaching Scotland.  

Read more: Scotland orders poultry indoors under emergency bird flu measures

!That has involved distributing information to all media outlets, posting advice and support on our own webpages and engaging key stakeholders – such as the NFUS and bird groups – to help reach more individuals and groups.  

"The Animal and Plant Health Protection agency notified subscribers of its notifiable animal disease text and email alerts on Tuesday, 6th December." 

“It is really important that anyone who keeps birds or poultry follows the advice they are receiving through various media channels. "

Penny Johnston, NFU Scotland's animal health and welfare policy manager said that it was clear that there is a high risk of infection in wild migratory fowl, posing a risk of cross infection into commercial birds. She said the decision taken by the Scottish Governmentw was "sensible, given the risk, and producers will play their part".

“NFU Scotland will continue to monitor the situation and update producers of any changes to the risk status and advice but in the meantime, we urge all poultry keepers to comply with the restriction notice, tighten biosecurity and be aware of the potentially increased risks from wild birds," she said.

H5N8 has circulated the globe since 2014, when it first appeared in China, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

In late 2014, the strain came to North America, and last year H5N8 viruses were also detected in Taiwan, China, Hungary, and Sweden.