Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Published: 19 Mar 2021
Last updated: 26 Aug 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 1 September 2021

Currently, the risk of introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 infection in poultry in the UK is LOW.

The risk across the UK of HPAI infection in wild birds is currently also LOW. However, it should be noted that LOW is defined as “rare, but does occur”. Therefore, sporadic outbreaks in wild birds are to be expected, particularly given the increased incidence during the winter/spring from last season’s unprecedented outbreak, making the likelihood of sporadic cases higher through the summer months.

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.

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 five or more dead birds of any 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). It is advisable that you do not touch these birds.

Since 2 November 2020, there have been a number of cases of notifiable avian influenza in the UK. These outbreaks have been at a variety of different premises, including both captive birds and poultry.

Wild bird surveillance

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.

In the 2020/21 avian influenza (AI) season, this surveillance programme identified the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) 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 and 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 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 identified the presence of HPAI H5N1 in the following locations:

  • St Andrews, Fife (3 x rooks collected on 8 April 2021)
  • Fair Isle, Shetland Islands (3 x great skuas collected on 20 July 2021)
  • Flannan Islands, Outer Hebrides (1 x great skua collected on 22 July 2021)

Laboratory analysis confirmed the above cases were 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 localities, the Scottish Government concluded that no control or monitoring zones are required.

Risk assessment: Fair Isle case

Risk assessment: Outer Hebrides case

The scheme also identified the presence of HPAI 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 tested positive for HPAI in other parts of GB. All findings of HPAI in wild bird in great Britain are published weekly. There were also reports of HPAI 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: 26 Aug 2021 -