Chief Vet urges vigilance on Avian Influenza

Date published: 09 June 2023

Northern Ireland’s Chief Vet, Dr. Robert Huey, has called on all bird and poultry keepers to immediately step up their biosecurity measures and remain vigilant against the latest threat of Avian Influenza (AI).

Map showing location and number of HPAI positive wild bird findings in 2023.

The call comes after the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) received confirmation that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been detected in samples of dead black headed gulls which were reported and subsequently collected for testing at four locations across Northern Ireland – Belfast Harbour, Comber, Coalisland and Magherafelt. The findings in Belfast resulted in the RSPB voluntarily closing, on a precautionary basis, their Window on Wildlife facilities near Belfast.

The findings at locations near Lough Neagh present the greatest concern, as they are in close proximity to high density areas of commercial poultry premises.

In light of these most recent HPAI confirmations in this species of wild bird, DAERA vets have updated the ongoing Veterinary Risk Assessment. There is now an increasing likelihood of incursion into kept flocks, albeit with a high level of uncertainty, in consideration of the relatively limited number of reports.

Dr Huey said of the recent findings: “While the Department lifted the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone on 2 June, the confirmation of HPAI black headed gulls in four locations is a stark warning to us all that AI is a constant and dynamic threat, and we must remain cautious of the potential for this persistent disease to spread more widely to other species of wild birds and even enter our kept domestic flocks. We must work hard to protect our entire industry.

“It is imperative that biosecurity measures are the first thing you think about every morning, and the last thing you think about at night – check, check and re-check what you are doing.”

Some simple, repetitive daily steps to protect your flock include:

  • Prevent direct or indirect contact between your flock and wild birds and their manure
  • Prevent access by wild birds to feed, feed storage and water
  • change your boots
  • wash your hands
  • wear disposable boiler suits
  • keep surrounding areas and specifically the curtilage around houses clean
  • and only have essential vehicles coming on site.

Dr Huey continued: “Completing your daily biosecurity checklist is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity, as is registering your flock with DAERA so that you can receive the latest advice and understand the risk levels. You can find all the information you need at

“We are also asking the poultry industry and the general public to report incidences of dead birds to help us build a better current picture of the spread and any developing patterns across Northern Ireland.

“In particular if you find dead waterfowl (swans, geese, or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should not touch the carcasses, but take immediate action to report them to the DAERA helpline on 0300 200 7840. Information received will be assessed and a decision made on whether to collect and sample the carcase for AI.

“We must work together to protect Northern Ireland’s poultry industry, the value of which is significant to our economy. Eggs and poultry meat provide a reliable source of safe, nutritious food. It is incumbent on you as a bird keeper, whether that’s of one or 10,000 birds, to stop AI getting into your flock. Help us to help you!”

Notes to editors: 

  1. Follow DAERA on Twitter at and Facebook.
  2. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office:
  3. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours’ service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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