Bird flu protection measures will be lifted later this month, but bird keepers have been urged to remain vigilant in an effort to prevent further outbreaks of the disease.
The rules have been in place since 7 November last year, making it a legal requirement to keep the animals inside and to follow stringent biosecurity measures to help protect flocks.
From 18 April, birdkeepers will be allowed to keep their flocks outside again, and eggs laid by poultry kept outdoors can be labelled as “free-range” once more.
However, the rules will remain in place if those birds are kept in a designated protection zone.
The risk level has been set at medium for areas that have what the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) describes as “poor” biosecurity measures, with everywhere else receiving a “low” risk assessment.
Birdkeepers will now have a week to prepare their outdoor enclosures, which will include disinfecting surfaces and fencing off ponds.
There have been more than 330 cases of confirmed avian flu cases across the UK since October 2021, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that, while rare, the public should remain vigilant about avian flu reaching humans.
Though, as recently as February, an 11-year-old girl in Cambodia died after contracting the disease.
And last week, scientists at the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) told Sky News there are concerns over another summer of infections ahead of seabirds returning to the UK for nesting season.
Dr Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s chief veterinary officer, said: “Whilst the lifting of the mandatory housing measures will be welcome news to bird keepers, scrupulous biosecurity remains the most critical form of defence to help keep your birds safe.
“It is thanks to the hard work of all bird keepers and vets who have played their part in keeping flocks safe this winter that we are in a position to take this action.
“However, the unprecedented nature of this outbreak has proven it’s more important than ever for bird keepers to remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain stringent standards of biosecurity.”
Those who keep birds are being urged to register their flocks.
The UKHSA said the threat to humans remains low, as does the risk to food safety in the UK.