Suffolk's bird flu crisis deepens as new case found

A duck farm at Debach, near Woodbridge

Duck farmers are among the poultry producers which have been hit by a wave of bird flu infections through March and now into April 2022 - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

A ninth bird flu prevention zone has been declared in Suffolk - plunging the county into an even deeper disease crisis.

Officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced the latest case at Wickham Skeith near Eye on Friday, April 8, at 10am.

They have ringed the site with a 3km protection and a 10km surveillance zone for highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1.

East Anglia's sizeable poultry sector is already on high alert following a series of outbreaks across Suffolk - affecting commercial duck and chicken farms as well as backyard flocks.

Starting near Westhorpe on February 26 at a mixed species smallholding, outbreaks have been recorded at another seven premises through the month of March. 

A protection zone was declared around a commercial duck fattening premises near Redgrave on March 1, another near Diss on March 11, a fattening ducks and chickens premises near Diss on March 12, then a broiler ducks site near Woodbridge on March 20.

Broiler hens

Chicken producers have been hit by the latest wave of bird flu infections across Suffolk in the last few months - Credit: PA

The disease was then discovered near Tuddenham St Martin on March 27 among commercial layer ducks, and the following day near Stowmarket in a mixed species backyard flock. On March 30, a case was found near Woodbridge in backyard chickens.

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Government officials are continuing to call for vigilance following an unprecedented year for outbreaks. The mounting number of cases is causing high anxiety for the region's egg and poultry producers.

Free range birds have been locked up since the latter part of last year as bird flu swept the country, eventually forcing free range egg and poultry producers to change their labelling to reflect the fact the birds could no longer officially be deemed to have been raised outdoors.

DEFRA scientists, reporting on the latest situation said: "Given the continuing reports of wild bird cases of HPAI H5N1 across Great Britain, the domestic poultry and captive bird populations in Great Britain continue to remain under high infection pressure, particularly where biosecurity is sub-optimal.

Ducklings being reared on a duck farm

Ducklings at a duck farm. Ducks are among the bird species which have been hit across Suffolk during the latest round of bird flu outbreaks - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

"Even where biosecurity is good, the ongoing high wild bird infection pressure is likely to indicate any weaknesses that exist. It is imperative that biosecurity is maintained to the greatest extent possible to mitigate against the ongoing risk of infection posed by wild birds across the UK.

"There has been an unprecedented number of HPAI H5N1 IPs with domestic poultry and captive birds, as well as wild bird cases reported in this 2021 to 2022 season, not only for the UK but also across Europe.

"It should be noted that trends in wild bird cases in Europe are now of relative minimal significance as a predictor for UK incursions during the spring, although the downwards trend in wild bird cases may also be reflected in UK wild bird cases."

Mark Gorton, managing director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry, which is currently rearing large numbers of chickens across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, said it was a worry. His firm specialises in organic and free range chickens as well as turkeys, which don't come in until July.

"It's a real worry that it's yet another outbreak in Suffolk. It's a real concern. Biosecurity is ramped up," he said.

"Every year is different and this year is the worst it's ever been. The way things are if things don't start to free up soon we will be back into the next migratory season."

It was a worldwide problem and something needed to be done about it, he said. He and others in the industry are calling for action on creating a vaccine against bird flu.