Position statement on avian influenza

Issued by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee on behalf of Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside.
Updated 11 January 2008

Current levels of risk

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) subtype H5N1 has been reported on 10 January 2008 from a Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) found at Abbotsbury Swannery, The Fleet, Dorset.
JNCC has been consulted by government, as a member of Defra’s Ornithological Experts Panel (OEP), on the possible role of wild birds in bringing HPAI H5N1 to the UK and its further spread within the UK.  Member organisations of the OEP are helping Defra to review local conditions, including the presence of other birds at The Fleet and nearby, through direct observations and from existing survey information.  Surveillance for avian diseases in wild birds continues through sampling of both dead and live birds under schemes coordinated by Defra.
We are currently assessing the risk of wild birds spreading HPAI H5N1 within and beyond the the Wild Bird Surveillance Area in Dorset.
The probability of infected wild birds arriving in, or moving around, the UK will depend on the proportion of wild birds that have come into contact with the infection, the transmission rate of the virus, the incubation period for HPAI H5N1, the mortality rate of infected birds and the likelihood that an infected individual could undertake movement from an outbreak area.  These factors are currently largely unknown.

Prevention measures

We believe that the culling of wild birds to prevent the spread of HPAI is neither feasible nor desirable, a position endorsed by World Health Organisation (WHO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and — in late 2005 — by the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on wetlands the Convention on Migratory Species and the Agreement on the Conservation of Africa-Eurasian migratory waterbirds (AEWA)

Ongoing work

The UK statutory agencies are committed to assisting UK government, the devolved administrations, and others in their surveillance of the current situation, acknowledging the particular circumstances in the island of Ireland.  To this end we will:
  •  Contribute our expertise and participate in the Ornithological Experts Panel (OEP) established by Defra, and involving the devolved administrations, to assess the possible role of wild birds in the spread of HPAI H5N1.
  •  Contribute to surveillance for avian influenza in wild birds.
  • Contribute to the expert group convened by the Office of Science & Technology.
  • Contribute to contingency planning being undertaken by DEFRA and the devolved administrations , through the development of contingency plans in each of the country agencies and JNCC.
  • Support DEFRA and the devolved administrations in liaising with other EU Member States and the international community on avian influenza issues.
  • Continue to support the BTO/WWT/RSPB/JNCC Wetland Bird Survey and BTO National Ringing Scheme as fundamental sources of information that aid the assessment of current risk.
  • Work with others to update and disseminate clear health and safety guidance for individuals whose activities may bring them into contact with potentially infected birds, such as bird ringers and hunters.
    • Clarification of the nature of migratory routes and timings for key migratory species; and further development of existing ecological monitoring of these populations. 
    • Clarification of the virus behaviour in different waterbird populations, especially viral incubation periods, the infectious period in birds, symptoms in wild birds, as well as survival rates.
Risk assessment depends on understanding the spread of the disease internationally, as well as those measures put in place to co-ordinate surveillance of influenza in both wild and domestic birds.  We will accordingly work with Wetlands International, especially through its ad hoc coordination unit, and other international organisations to develop international understanding so as to provide this wider context to the UK government and devolved administrations, the European Union and other relevant bodies, specifically:
  • Contributing to the work of the Avian Influenza Scientific Task Force established by the Convention on Migratory Species which seeks to facilitate co-ordination of activity related to the spread of HPAI at international scales.
We will keep our position under review and provide updated statements as the situation requires.


Avian influenza is widespread in populations of wild birds, but typically has low lethality (so-called Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza - LPAI). There is current concern over a highly virulent form of this virus (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza - HPAI - of the form H5N1) which originated in Asia, is now considered endemic in that region, and has subsequently spread rapidly west into many other countries. The means of this spread are not fully understood but may involve legal [1] and illegal movements of poultry and other captive live birds as well as dispersal by migratory wild birds. This concern arises, not only from the impacts of this infection on stocks of domestic poultry, but especially from the risk of human infection with HPAI as well as the theoretical potential that HPAI may mutate to a form that could spread between humans resulting in a global influenza pandemic. The impact of HPAI on wild bird populations is also of concern.
There is continuing concern that migrating wild birds may further spread HPAI from infected areas to new areas along migration routes. Long-term investment in programmes that monitor the numbers and distribution of the UK's waterbird populations, as well as information on bird movements gained from the National Ringing Scheme (organised by the British Trust for Ornithology), aid in evaluating this risk.

Further information
Further information on the current situation can be found on the following web-sites:
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:
Wetlands International: 
Office International des Epizooties: 
World Health Organisation
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations:
FAO's Animal Production and Health Division - AGA
European Commission: 
European Food Safety Authority:
 http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/en.html (search for AI)
Convention on Migratory Species:
AI Task Force (http://www.aiweb.info/)
November 2005 - Resolution 8.27 (Migratory species and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza)
April 2006 - conclusions of the scientific seminar on Avian Influenza, Nairobi.
BirdLife International:
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
US Geological Service's National Wildlife Health Center:
Ramsar Convention on wetlands
November 2005 - Resolution IX.23 (Highly pathogenic avian influenza and its consequences for wetland and waterbird conservation and wise use)
African-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement 
October 2005 - Resolution 3.18.  (Avian Influenza)

Statutory conservation agency and Northern Ireland avian influenza contact points

Primary Contacts
David Stroud 
Helen Baker 
Andy Douse 
Natural England
Ian Carter
Countryside Council for Wales
Sian Whitehead    
Scottish Natural Heritage
Andy Douse
Environment and Heritage Service
Gregor Watson

1.The occurrence of HPAI in UK quarantine demonstrates this potential route.