Defra have confirmed that three wild mute swans in Dorset died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu. As a keeper of backyard chickens, I have a keen interest in stories of bird flu in the UK. There have been a few outbreaks which have so far been contained. But the odds are that sooner or later it will become a widespread bird disease in Britain and we will have to learn to live with it.
I'm not too worried. From my experience with beekeeping I know that we can learn to manage animal disease. The bee parasite varroa destructor came to Britain in 1992, and you can pretty much say that every bee colony in the country is now infected. But all British beekeepers now know how to monitor and control the mite to minimise the damage it does.
Of course varroa causes no harm to humans, but H5N1 bird flu has infected several hundred people worldwide since 2003, and killed almost 2/3 of them. All those infected have caught the disease from close contact with infected birds, but it mutates very quickly and scientists fear that it could mutate to a form that passes easily from human to human.
All UK poultry keepers, even people like me who only have a couple of backyard chickens, should be ready to confine them indoors if necessary, somewhere the birds can live humanely for as long as need be, out of all contact from wild birds. My chickens have a palatial coop with checky red curtains and it would be no trouble to keep the door to the run permanently shut if bird flu was detected in our area. If that ever happened, I would stop the kids from having contact with the chickens, and I would take additional hygeine precautions myself when feeding the chickens, cleaning their coop and collecting eggs. If need be I'm ready to slaughter them, or take them to be slaughtered. It would be very sad, but it might have to happen so I'm ready for it. But for now I don't need to do anything special. It's a theoretical risk, something that might happen in the future but it hasn't happened yet.