Skip to main content

Avian Influenza: Testing

Volume 470: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what criteria he uses to identify sites for testing for the H5N1 virus; and if he will make a statement. (179931)

[holding answer 17 January 2008]: Surveillance for avian influenza focuses on species of wild birds that experts believe to have a greater potential role in the spread of avian influenza viruses including ducks, geese, swans, gulls and waders. Sampling is targeted as much as possible to areas where there is an abundance of these species and domestic poultry. The aim is to focus on areas where an introduction of HPAI H5N1 would be more likely to be detected and to areas where an introduction may have more significance to poultry health. More than 6,000 birds were tested last year alone. The numbers of birds tested is in part dependent on the numbers of birds found dead by regular patrols of certain wetland reserves or reported by the public. There have been over 2,000 patrols undertaken since the start of this migration period in September/October at over 200 sites. The number of dead birds can be lower during a milder year. No cuts have been made to active patrolling or testing and in some areas patrolling has been increased due to national and international avian influenza incidents. Samples are also collected from live caught birds at several wetland sites throughout the UK and birds shot through normal wildfowling.

We adopt a partnership approach to such surveillance with over 20 organisations which own sites where testing takes place. These include the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Trust for Ornithology, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts and local authorities.

Additionally a separate survey takes place across the whole of the UK to monitor any unusually high levels of mortality in wild birds of any species. We also test a random sample of poultry premises from across the UK. During an outbreak, we enhance the level of surveillance that takes place in the surrounding area based on expert ornithological advice.