Tuesday, 31 October 2023
A new study has revealed that confusion over government guidelines is preventing UK poultry keepers from complying with UK avian flu regulations. The report’s recommendations, along with a new messaging campaign, could help to reduce future cases.
The research by the University of Nottingham has been published in the peer reviewed Heliyon journal and follows the UK’s largest ever Avian Influenza outbreak, which began in 2021. It found that the systems for dealing with the issue tend to be focussed on large commercial poultry flocks and don’t consider small-scale (backyard) poultry keepers who have made up 18% of the recent outbreaks.
Over 1500 poultry keepers volunteered to take part in the study, demonstrating the importance of the issue. Although 99% of them were aware of High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) regulations, many of them said that government communication has been unclear, with some participants believing that the measures were only achievable for commercial set ups. The research also highlights a failure by Defra and APHA to connect with small-scale keepers; especially those who see their birds as pets.
The research also found that:
Sol Elliott, a recently graduated Veterinary student at the University of Nottingham initiated the study: “The inspiration for the project came from a conversation with a backyard keeper, who had interpreted the Housing Order to mean keeping their birds inside their home. We were keen to explore other aspects of the Avian Influenza communications that backyard keepers found unclear. An increased understanding of backyard poultry keepers' needs will help us to build trust and improve cooperation with any avian influenza guidance in place.”
Official government communications on Avian flu were developed with large commercial flocks in mind and caused considerable confusion with small holder flocks, this project explored their issues and concerns, developing more accessible resources for helping them protect their flocks.
The research team has made several key recommendations, aimed at improving communication between policy makers and small-scale poultry keepers. These include:
Clear, simple targeted messaging for small-scale keepers, along with better communication about the risks and benefits of adhering to biosecurity and housing measures. This involves practical illustrations of how to implement the measures, such as photographs, infographics and videos.
Dr Emma McClaughlin, Linguistics Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham adds: “Effective communication around biosecurity and poultry health has a vital role to play in efforts to control avian influenza in the UK. Our findings highlight a pressing need to move away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and develop tailored messaging that addresses the specific challenges that small-scale and non-commercial keepers face.”
The research was a collaboration between experts from the schools of English, Geography and Veterinary Medicine and Science at the University of Nottingham. The Principal Investigators were Dr Emma McClaughlin (School of English), Professor Sarah Jewitt (School of Geography), Dr Steve Dunham (School of Veterinary Medicine and Science), Professor Matthew Smallman-Raynor (School of Geography), Dr Michael Clark (School of Veterinary Medicine and Science) along with research assistants Dr Alastair Munro and Dr Tamsin Parnell.
As part of the project, the research teams also created an animation to clearly explain HPAI measures; why they’re needed, who they’re for and how they can be implemented. The animation is being shared with poultry keeper communities and is available to watch online.
Notes to editors:
About the University of Nottingham
Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.
Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.
The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.
We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.