Publication - Advice and guidance

Avian influenza (bird flu): how to spot and report the disease

Published: 19 Mar 2021
Last updated: 24 Jun 2021 - see all updates

Advice on what to do if you suspect there is an outbreak of avian influenza.

Avian influenza (bird flu): how to spot and report the disease
Latest situation

Latest situation - updated 18 May 2021

The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) was revoked and the bird gathering general licence updated at 12:00 noon on 15 May 2021 – more information on this below

Following publication of a revised risk assessment based on the latest scientific evidence and veterinary advice, the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) was revoked at 12:00 noon on 15 May 2021. It was announced the previous day

Effective biosecurity remains an essential part of standard animal husbandry, and is the most effective measure of disease control.  Whilst the risk of avian influenza has reduced, low risk does not mean no risk, and bird keepers are strongly advised to apply high standards of biosecurity measures at all times, to prevent and mitigate future disease outbreaks.

All bird gatherings now permitted under general licence

In response to the changing risk from avian influenza, the general licence to arrange bird gatherings in Scotland has been updated. All poultry and other captive bird gatherings, including pigeon gatherings organised for races from mainland Europe, are permitted from 15 May, provided organisers fully adhere to the conditions and requirements of the general licence.

Preparation for release of birds

High standards of biosecurity remain essential, as infection may still be present in the environment. Before letting your birds outside, you must take action to prepare the outside areas. Bird keepers are advised to prepare the ranges and outdoor areas for release of the birds. This includes cleansing and disinfection of hard surfaces, fencing off ponds or standing water and reintroduction of wild bird deterrents. 

Read More: How to prepare for when your free-range birds can be let outside.

You should always check whether different arrangements apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Avian influenza (bird flu) mainly affects birds. It can also affect humans and other mammals. Avian influenza is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of avian influenza in poultry or captive birds you must report it immediately by contacting your local Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence. If you find a single dead bird of prey, gull or wildfowl species (particularly wild geese, wild ducks, swans), or find five or more birds of any other species in the same location and at the same time, please report these incidents to Defra’s national telephone helpline (03459 33 55 77 - please select option 7).

Outbreak near Glenrothes

On 11 February 2021, Scottish Ministers confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 in a breeding gamebird farm in Leven, Glenrothes. In line with legislative requirements, a 3 km Protection Zone (PZ) and 10 km Surveillance Zone (SZ) were declared with effect from 13 February.

These zones place movement restrictions on for example, poultry, carcasses, eggs, used poultry litter and manure. Legislation for the H5N1 strain require a Restricted Zone (RZ) to also be declared.  However, this RZ is also 10 km and has the same extent as the PZ and SZ, with no additional measures.

Following completion of preliminary cleansing and disinfection and mandatory surveillance requirements Scottish Ministers declared the end of the Protection Zone and Restricted Zone on 12 March 2021 and end of the Surveillance Zone on 21 March 2021. 

Read more: 

Outbreak in Sanday, Orkney

On 19 December 2020, Scottish Ministers confirmed the presence of a highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of avian influenza on a poultry premises on Sanday, Orkney. In line with legislative requirements a 3 km Protection Zone and 10 km Surveillance Zone (SZ) were declared with effect from 20 December.

As the required time has passed since the completion of primary cleansing and disinfection of the infected premises and the veterinary inquiry has been completed at all premises identified as containing poultry or other captive birds within the Surveillance Zone, both the Protection and Surveillance Zones in this area have been revoked by Scottish Ministers.

Wild bird surveillance

Since 2 November 2020, there have been a number of cases of notifiable avian influenza in England. These outbreaks have been at a variety of different premises, including both captive birds and poultry. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) carries out year-round avian influenza surveillance of dead wild birds submitted via public reports and warden patrols.

This surveillance programme has identified the presence of avian influenza H5N8 in dead wild birds from eight areas in Scotland:

  • Cupar, Fife (swan collected on 29 November 2020 – due to carcass degradation it was not possible to identify the species)
  • Dornoch Firth near Golspie (Greylag goose collected on 3 December 2020)
  • Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire (3 x whooper swans collected on 3 December 2020)
  • Clackmannanshire (1 x mute swan collected on 11 December 2020), (2 x mute swans collected on 15 December 2020)
  • Montrose, Angus (1 x whooper swan collected on 16 December 2020)
  • South Uist, Western Isles ( 1 x mute swan collected on the 17 December 2020)
  • Ellon, Aberdeenshire  (2 x knots collected on 24 December 2020)
  • North Berwick, East Lothian (2 x mute swans collected on 20 January 2021)

In addition, the scheme has identified the presence of avian influenza H5N1 in the following location:

  • St Andrews, Fife (3 x rooks collected on 8 April 2021)

Laboratory analysis confirmed this is the European strain of H5N1, which presents the same low risk to human health as other recent wild bird AI findings. Having carried out a risk assessment regarding the locality, Scottish Government has concluded that no control or monitoring zones are required.

The scheme has also identified the presence of avian influenza H5 (N type not determined) in the following location:

  • Lossiemouth, Moray (1 x knot collected on 29 December 2020)

As part of this surveillance a number of wild birds have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in other parts of GB . All findings of HPAI in wild bird in great Britain are published weekly. There have also been reports of highly pathogenic H5N8 in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as part of the avian influenza surveillance strategies in those countries. 



Animal Health and Welfare 
Scottish Government
Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate
Saughton House

First published: 19 Mar 2021 Last updated: 24 Jun 2021 -