FREE-RANGE egg producers have issued a reminder to all poultry keepers of the importance of keeping hens housed this winter as the risk of avian influenza remains high.

Since 14 December there has been a legal requirement for all keepers of poultry to house birds to minimise contact with wild birds.

See also: Dutch to keep birds housed beyond 16 weeks

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA), which represents farmers who look after 25million birds, has warned that action is needed from all poultry keepers in order to avoid a disaster.

There have been nearly 300 cases of avian influenza detected in wild birds in the UK this winter.

The organisation has had many reports of small flocks and back-garden poultry keepers not following their legal obligation under the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) to house them to prevent contact with wild birds.

‘Deeply concerned’

Bfrepa chief executive Robert Gooch said: “I am deeply concerned to hear reports of poultry seen outdoors during the most serious outbreak of avian influenza we have ever experienced.

“Farmers have been committed to strict biosecurity rules since the beginning of the current lockdown and have helped prevent further outbreaks.

“As we tackle the spread of avian influenza, it is imperative that all poultry owners – large and small – are keeping their birds indoors. It is not an ideal situation but necessary as we all play our part in minimising the spread of this devastating disease.

Mr Gooch added: “For those simply ignoring the law, I have to stress that spreading the disease is increasing the likelihood of whole flocks of birds being culled – an option no one wants to see come to fruition and an outcome that can be prevented.”