SOUTH Dorset is on alert against bird flu as a ‘prevention zone’ is put in place after the first case of the disease in the UK this year was detected in 17 birds on the Fleet at Abbotsbury Swannery.

The wild birds which were found dead have tested positive for the H5N6 strain of avian flu, landowner Ilchester Estates said today.

An avian influenza prevention zone now applies to everyone who keeps poultry or captive birds in an area of south Dorset which covers Weymouth and Portland and its outskirts.

All keepers in this zone should be vigilant, and are required by law to follow the government’s requirements on strict biosecurity – whether they have commercial flocks or just a few birds in their backyard as pets – to prevent their birds becoming infected.

The measures include feeding and watering birds indoors, minimising movement in and out of enclosures, disinfecting footwear and keeping bird houses clean.

Keepers within the prevention zone can allow birds outdoors into fenced areas provided the areas meet certain conditions.

The disease is highly infectious and deadly to birds – but the risk to public health is said to be “very low”, and there is also no risk to food safety.

There are no plans for culls or movement restrictions at the current time.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is urging people to keep up to date with the latest situation.

It has been reported that mute swans, one Canada Goose and one Potchard Duck at the Fleet have been affected.

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The swannery (above), a popular tourist attraction, is currently closed for the winter and is not due to open until March.

This is the third time in 10 years the swannery has been hit by bird flu.

This time last year, it was the HN58 strain which put the swannery on alert. The attraction managed to open in time for the 2017 season as planned.

A spokesperson for Ilchester Estates, landowners of the Fleet Reserve when the swannery is based, said: “Seventeen cases of avian flu have been confirmed in wild birds on the Fleet near Weymouth. 

"The wild birds which were found dead have tested positive for the H5N6 strain of avian flu.

"We have been assured by the relevant authorities that this strain of avian flu represents a very low threat to humans, and our staff are continuing their winter duties and monitoring the wildlife on the Fleet. 

“We are working with Public Health England and APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) to deal with this situation."

The outbreak has not affected the RSPB reserves in Weymouth which remain open to the public.

As a precaution, access to the penguin enclosure at Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park is being restricted. Visitors will still be able to spot them through viewing windows at the sides.

The swannery cases are the first confirmed finding of the virus in the UK this winter and tests have shown it is closely related to the H5N6 strain that has been circulating in wild birds across Europe in recent months.

It is different to the strains which affected people in China last year.

Dorset County Council says poultry keepers need to remain vigilant and follow the advice on the Defra website.

If you are concerned that poultry keepers in Dorset are not protecting their birds, contact Trading Standards.

Poultry keepers and members of the public should report dead waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), or other dead wild birds such as gulls or birds of prey, to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 and keepers should report suspicion of disease to APHA on 03000 200 301.

Further avian influenza advice, including how to spot the disease, is available on