Defra orders all birds inside for 30 days

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A turkey farmer has said Christmas dinner is safe despite a dangerous strain of bird flu circulating in Europe.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has ordered that chicken, turkey and duck owners must keep their birds inside for 30 days or take steps to separate them from wild birds.

This is part of a “prevention zone” for England to protect against the risk of infection from wild birds.

A type of highly pathogenic avian flu, H5N8, has been found in dead wild birds in countries across Europe, from Poland to France, although no cases have been found in the UK.

Mark Gorton, who is director of a free range turkey and chicken producer in Norfolk, said the order to keep birds inside was sensible, and that it was fortunate the situation had not occurred earlier in the run-up to Christmas.

“Most of the Christmas turkeys are done,” he said.

“They’re safely packed and in the cold stores, ready for Christmas dinners.

“It could have been worse if it happened two or three weeks ago, and in this sense Christmas dinner is still safe.”

Mr Gorton’s business, Traditional Norfolk Poultry, has between 500,000 and a million birds at this time of year at small farms across East Anglia.

He said the free range birds have houses which they can shelter in, and they would be kept in these full-time until the order was lifted.

This posed no welfare issues for the birds, and the houses were “very light and airy” with lots of windows, said Mr Gorton.

“Even though you don’t let them outside there’s still lots more space than intensively reared chickens have,” he said. “The birds are quite happy.

“We give them lots of enrichment - straw bales to peck at, bottles from the roof, we give them lots of things to do and at this time of year it’s quite wet and miserable outside so there aren’t so many outside as in summer anyway.”

He added of the order: “There’s a real threat of bird flu and it’s the responsible thing to do to protect our chickens.

“We wouldn’t be doing the right thing for our chickens if we did nothing.”

He said the situation did have an impact on the business at a busy time of year.

“It creates more work but we take it in our stride and sometimes these things happen in the poultry industry,” he said.

The threat to humans from the bird flu strain remains very low, Public Health England (PHE) said.