Free range producer welcomes bird flu restrictions as disease spreads

Alaistaire Brice, owner of Havensfield Happy Hens. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Alaistaire Brice, owner of Havensfield Happy Hens. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk free range egg producer has welcomed a tightening of restrictions to prevent the spread of bird flu in England, but fears an outbreak in the domestic bird population is imminent.

Free range hens from Havensfield Happy Hens at Hoxne. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Free range hens from Havensfield Happy Hens at Hoxne. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Free range egg producer Alaistaire Brice, of Havensfield Happy Hens at Hoxne, near Eye, says he has been on tenterhooks for some time, as H5N6 spread across wild bird populations in Europe, and was detected this month in Dorset and now Warwickshire.

As a result, chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens has declared a bird flu prevention zone across the whole of England. It means strict biosecurity measures have been placed on bird keepers as a precautionary measure.

Alaistaire, who believes that similar restrictions should be considered in Wales and Scotland and that bird gatherings and auctions should be looked at, said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) appeared to be better prepared than last year, when birds were ordered indoors following outbreaks in UK flocks.

“We have been anticipating this, as it’s been only a matter of time with the migratory birds seemingly arriving later than last year due to warmer weather and lack of frosts,” said Alaistaire.

“The basic requirements for bio-security are all common sense and most professional poultry keepers have been adopting these measures, as they have been expecting the virus sooner rather than later.

“This is the first step in what will be a testing few months ahead as now its back in the UK no-one knows when and where it will pop up. No one is at a lower risk - we all need to protect our birds.”

Most Read

He added that poultry businesses such as his were “already at a heightened level of worry” because of the disease spread. It is expected the birds in Warwickshire, which were being tested, will carry the same H5N6 strain of the virus found elsewhere.

Chief vet Nigel Gibbens said: “Following the latest finding of bird flu in wild birds in Warwickshire, we are extending our action to help prevent the virus spreading to poultry and other domestic birds.

“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now legally required to meet enhanced biosecurity requirements and this is in your interests to do, to protect your birds from this highly infectious virus.”

Bird keepers are legally bound to abide by a number of preventative measures, including removing wild bird food sources, netting ponds, feeding their own birds in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds, minimising movements in and out of bird enclosures, and cleaning and disinfecting footwear and concrete areas.

Keepers with more than 500 birds will also be required to take some extra biosecurity measures including restricting access to non-essential people, changing clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles.

The prevention zone will be in place until further notice and will be kept under regular review, DEFRA said.