Poultry farmers and smallholders in Melton have been warned they face losing the free range status for their eggs if they don’t comply with new tighter restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Bird Flu.
Large parts of the borough and neighbouring villages along the A607 Leicester Road have now been designated ‘high risk’ areas for circulation of the H5N8 strain following a series of UK outbreaks since the autumn.
Melton’s proximity to large bodies of water such as the River Wreake and lakes at Eye Kettleby and Brooksby mean there are large numbers of wild birds locally who potentially carry the destructive virus.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) brought in biosecurity measures late last year, calling for poultry owners to house their birds and banning sales such as the popular weekly one at Melton Cattle Market.
And from February 28, Defra is now calling on farmers and smallholders to ensure their birds continue to be housed or have access to an appropriately netted run.
If they don’t comply to the latter, then egg producers will be unable to sell them as free range because they will be deemed to have been housed for 12 weeks, the limit before the status is lost.
The East Midlands branch of the National Farmers’ Union urged poultry owners to follow the tightened restrictions on keeping their birds.
Spokesperson Alison Pratt said: “Melton is a high risk zone and it also extends to the west of Melton.
“The zone runs from Thorpe Arnold in the east to places like Hoby, Rotherby, Rearsby and East Goscote to the west.
“Then we also have villages north of Melton like Holwell, Ab Kettleby, Wartnaby and Old Dalby which are also designed high risk areas.”
Mrs Pratt added: “It will have quite an impact on those people who aren’t able to label their eggs as free range because it can mean they sell them each for about 20p less.
“It’s so important that poultry owners follow these biosecurity measures because they really don’t want to get Bird Flu in their flock.
“Compensation is paid for any birds that are killed by it but they won’t get any money towards the clean up operation, which can be incredibly expensive.”
The Prevention Zone, or housing order, was introduced in the UK in early December for the first time in more than 25 years because of the lethal nature of Bird Flu detected in flocks in recent weeks.
Just one gram of infected faeces can kill one million birds.
Gary Ford, the NFU’s chief poultry adviser, said: “I would urge all of our poultry members to continue to practice enhanced biosecurity at all times and to be vigilant for signs of disease.
“I would also ask that members of the public who keep hens, geese and ducks to follow Defra’s advice as they have an important part to play in reducing the risk of avian influenza, both to their birds as well as the commercial poultry sector.”
Since poultry sales were banned before Christmas there have been fewer people attending Melton Cattle Market’s Tuesday market.
Market manager Tim Webster said: “We didn’t think it would but the ban on sales has made a big difference to footfall at the market.
“We haven’t been told yet by Defra about when we can re-start the sales.”
Advice from Defra for poultry owners in high risk areas such as Melton:
* Keep all poultry inside or in a netted range, preferably using fine mesh, which cannot be accessed by wild birds
* If poultry does not have access to a range their eggs will lose free range status on March 1
* If you are having contact with other birds, change your clothes and thoroughly disinfect footwear
* Keep the number of visitors and movement of vehicles to a minimum at the site where your birds are kept
Defra advice for members of the public:
* The housing order on UK poultry is enforceable by trading standards – residents are advised to contact Leicestershire County Council if they see birds which aren’t housed
* Poultry owners and the public, alike, are advised to report dead wild waterfowl or gulls they come across via the helpline 0300 3038268