Possible cull at second farm

POULTRY farmers in Suffolk rearing turkeys, geese and chickens were today facing their nightmare before Christmas after bird flu was confirmed in the county.

POULTRY farmers in Suffolk rearing turkeys, geese and chickens were today facing their nightmare before Christmas after bird flu was confirmed in the county.

The strain of the disease found at a farm on the Suffolk/Norfolk border was confirmed as being H5N1 - the form of disease which has caused human fatalities in other parts of the world.

Birds were expected to be culled at a second farm, thought to be on the Norfolk side of the county border, as a precaution after a contact moved between the two premises. There is no indication that the disease has been found anywhere else.

The news prompted restrictions to be placed on poultry farmers in Suffolk and sparked fears for the market in specialist meats for Christmas.

William Shipp has 8,000 free-range chickens at his farm in Henley, near Ipswich and is affected by restrictions imposed after the discovery of bird flu.

Today he said: “We haven't heard anything officially yet, but my son has been looking up about bird flu on the computer.

Most Read

“My birds can still go out, but we have to feed and water them inside so we don't attract any wild birds to the site which can spread the disease.”

The big question worrying experts was: how did bird flu arrive on a farm in the heart of Britain's poultry industry?

The animals hit were a flock of free-range turkeys and geese being fattened at Redgrave Hall Farm, near Diss, for the specialist Christmas market.

They are kept outside, allowing them to be sold as free range, but also allowing them to come into contact with wild birds.

There is a lake at Redgrave Park which is popular with wildfowl and at this time of the year it is home to thousands of migrating birds from continental Europe.

The type of bird flu is the same as that identified in Germany and the Czech Republic earlier this year, prompting fears it could have been brought in by wild birds.

A cull of 5,000 turkeys, more than 1,000 ducks and 500 geese on the infected rearing site at Redgrave Park farm was continuing today, Defra said.

It began yesterday after the alarm was raised on Sunday by poultry producer Gressingham Foods, based in Woodbridge but with farms throughout East Anglia, following turkey deaths at the farm.

Protection and surveillance zones, set at 3km and 10km respectively, and a wider restricted area covering the whole of Suffolk and much of Norfolk have been put in place.

They restrict the movement of birds and require them to be housed and isolated from wild birds.

A report by Defra into the last outbreak of H5N1 at the Bernard Matthews poultry plant in Holton, Suffolk, in February also initially blamed wild birds but it was later decided the most likely source of the infection was imported turkey meat from Hungary.

Cieran Nelson, RSPB spokesman at the society's regional headquarters, said he understood the geese on Redgrave Lake were not migratory, with them staying at the location all the year round.

“It should be innocent until proved guilty as far as wild birds are concerned. It is presumptuous to point the finger in their direction at this stage,” he said.

Mr Shipp said he was not convinced bird flu was brought in by migrating birds.

“It's a long way for a sick bird to get from Germany to Suffolk,” he said.

IPSWICH butcher George Debman has already seen the supply of local meat vary significantly over the last year as farming has been hit by a series of crises.

And he warned that the Christmas favourite - free range turkey - could be difficult to find this year.

“The problem is for producers that they are being told to take their birds inside and that means they can't be free-range any more,” he said.

“I don't think this will undermine public confidence in the poultry industry - but it could encourage people to order earlier to ensure they get what they want.”

The region's largest poultry show should have been held this weekend at Trinity Park, allowing butchers to place their Christmas orders with farmers, but that has now been cancelled.

Mr Debman, who runs Debman Butchers in Cliff Lane, said: “I'm lucky, I get my turkeys from a farm in Essex and they aren't affected by restrictions at the moment.”