HOUSING measures introduced to tackle an outbreak of bird flu will be lifted next week, the Welsh Government has confirmed.

A number of cases of the infectious disease were found around Shropshire and north Wales, including in Chirk and Wem.

But now mandatory housing measures for poultry and captive birds are to be removed, unless they are in a Protection Zone – none of which are in place in Wales at present – meaning birds can be kept outside again.

Gatherings of poultry remain banned under the relaxation of the rules, and infection may be circulating for "several more weeks", according to health officials.

The UK has faced its largest ever outbreak of bird flu with more than 100 cases confirmed across the country since late October.

In a joint statement, the UK's four chief veterinary officers 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 recent cases of avian influenza show that it’s more important than ever for bird keepers to remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain stringent standards of biosecurity.”

The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone will remain in force across the UK, with only the housing measures component being lifted from Monday, May 2. All bird keepers must keep taking biosecurity measures including cleansing and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles, limiting access to non-essential people on their sites, and workers changing clothing and footwear before entering and when leaving bird enclosures.

People are also being told not to touch or pick up any dead or sick birds, and to report dead swans, geese, ducks or other wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

Public health advice is that the risk to human health is very low. The Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not change their current advice on consumption of poultry products including eggs.