Bird flu ban stays for unlucky hens

Some Wigan poultry owners will soon be able to keep their birds outside again as bird flu restrictions are eased - but not in all parts of the borough.

An avian influenza prevention zone was declared on December 6, forcing owners to keep poultry and captive birds indoors or to take steps to separate them from wild birds.

Earlier this week it was reported that the disease was detected in a greylag goose at the Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Burscough.

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has now said it will adopt a more targeted approach from February 28, with mandatory biosecurity measures across England and continued housing or range netting in higher risk areas.

The Government’s chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: “The 12-week housing requirement has allowed keepers time to introduce stricter biosecurity measures and our intention now is to lift this from February 28. Current rules on housing still remain in place until then, but we are setting out plans now to give people time to prepare. We will keep this decision under review.

“H5N8 continues to circulate in wild birds and poultry keepers must remain vigilant.

This proposal does not mean a return to business as usual and we will continue to do everything we can to reduce the risk from this disease.”

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Areas close to large inland or coastal bodies of water, where significant numbers of wild birds collect, are deemed higher risk, so compulsory housing or total netting will continue to be mandatory.

Parts of the borough have been identified as a higher risk area, including the farm that is home to Lucky Hens Rescue North West at Ince whose operations have been stalled.

Director Alison Thorpe said: “I’m very worried.

“I rang a farm yesterday to try to arrange an adoption day in March and then this has happened.”

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She currently has dozens of hens at the farm, which she has not been able to rehome due to the bird flu restrictions.

Mrs Thorpe said: “We have been under cover since the notice came out. They are in gazebos with mesh around them.

“That’s all we can do. It’s not fair to keep them locked up.”

Mrs Thorpe has opened a fund-raising shop in Hindley to provide a new source of income for Lucky Hens.

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She said the support has been “unbelievable” and donations have poured in.

Defra says around 75 per cent of poultry keepers will be unaffected.

The new measures will be reviewed at the end of April.