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Eden poultry keepers welcome measures to contain bird flu

Date: Tuesday 7th March 2017
David Brass, of the Lakes Free Range Egg Company, Stainton, with some of his hens which are being kept indoors due to the avian influenza outbreak.
David Brass, of the Lakes Free Range Egg Company, Stainton, with some of his hens which are being kept indoors due to the avian influenza outbreak.

POULTRY keepers in the Eden area have given a guarded welcome to the introduction of a new Avian Influenza Prevention Zone system which is said to represent a more targeted approach to controlling the disease.

Following the change, all poultry keepers across England must continue to observe strict biosecurity measures, but those in some areas of the country are no longer required to house their birds or keep them in netted areas.

However, the housing/netting requirement still applies to those keepers inside what have been defined as high risk areas, which are said to be based on clear scientific evidence concerning the risk of avian flu being transmitted by wild birds.

There are a number of these high risk areas in Cumbria, including to the south of Penrith, around Bassenthwaite Lake and along much of the Solway coast. Additionally, protection and surveillance zones are in place around the site of a disease outbreak in a small flock at Slaggyford in the North Pennines. Full details of these zones can be found at www.gisdiseasemap.defra.gov.uk.

According to Defra, this approach is designed to give keepers options and allow free range production to continue. A spokesman said all poultry and captive bird keepers in England must comply with a set of minimum biosecurity standards whether they are in the new high risk areas or outside them, and all those with more than 500 birds must comply with additional biosecurity measures.

Outside the high risk areas, keepers have the option to allow poultry and kept birds managed access to fenced outdoor areas.

The spokesman said: “If you plan to let your birds outdoors, there are additional biosecurity measures you must put in place. These apply regardless of the size of your flock, whether you have a commercial holding, a backyard flock or keep your birds as pets.

“Before birds are let outside, you must take all reasonable steps to remove and minimise the risk of existing faecal contamination from wild birds.”

He added: “All keepers must consider very carefully whether the measures you are taking sufficiently reduce the risk of contact between your birds and wild birds, particularly wild waterfowl. If you consider this remains a risk, you should keep your birds housed or in fully netted areas.

“Within the high risk area, all poultry and captive birds, regardless of flock size, must either be housed or kept within fully netted outdoor areas, pens, cages or aviaries.”

Additionally, poultry fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings remain banned until further notice, with this situation set to be reviewed at the end of April.

David Brass, of the Stainton-based Lakes Free Range Egg Company, said the new system does give Cumbrian poultry keepers an extra option, but that he will be “amazed” if any commercial egg producers do let their birds into fenced outdoor areas.

He pointed out that many outbreaks of avian flu on the Continent have been due to transmission of the virus by gulls, saying: “If you look at that, where is there that is not a high risk area?”

Mr. Brass welcomed a move which will see eggs from flocks which were free range but are now housed labelled to make their origin clear. The packaging on these eggs will state they are “from birds housed in barns due to welfare issues”.

This, he said, will create a “level playing field” for producers, and provide clarity for keepers, retailers and consumers.

Poultry Club of Great Britain council member Ian Allonby, Crosby Garrett, welcomed the news that the ban on poultry gatherings is to be reviewed in April, saying the hope is that the disease will have died down by then, allowing summer events to go ahead.

However, he urged enthusiasts outside the high risk areas to be very cautious about letting their birds out into fenced areas, and only to consider doing so where there is a serious welfare issue if they remain inside.

“Where there are welfare issues, I think they have to do a careful risk assessment and be very strict on biosecurity,” he said. “If there is no welfare issue, the birds should remain inside.”

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