Arctic weather this winter will bring bird flu to Britain, ministers fear. They believe it will cause waterfowl carrying the deadly virus to come to this country.

But they are continuing to refuse to order that poultry, which could catch the disease from wild birds, be brought indoors, as other countries have done. The environment minister Ben Bradshaw has told MPs that the severe conditions forecast for this winter could set infected birds on the move again.

He warned the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee: "Just because there has not been any geographical spread for a month does not mean to say that there will not be." He said the risk was expected to increase, "were there to be, as the Meteorological Office has been predicting, a very, very hard winter".

Experts say geese, Bewick's swans, widgeon and teal are among the likeliest species to bring the virus to Britain. They could be blown here on easterly winds, or simply move here in a European cold snap.

Migrating birds caused alarm by bringing the virus to Europe from Siberia for the first time. But it did not spread westwards because the birds' migratory routes took them to Africa.

At the time Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and some German states brought their poultry indoors. And last week, the European Commission reiterated that this should continue to be done in "vulnerable" areas. But Mr Bradshaw said that poultry would have to be brought in only "where practicable".