A major Kent egg producer has called for a long-term solution to tackling bird flu after mandatory housing measures were lifted in April.

While Keith Fordyce, who manages Woodlands Poultry Farm just outside Canterbury, welcomed DEFRA’s announcement that the requirement to keep poultry inside was being removed, he was concerned that restrictions would return at some point in the future.

“Restrictions started in December the year before last and then November last year, so it just seems to be getting longer.  It’s good that we can let the birds out again, but for how long? DEFRA really needs to be pushing for a longer-term solution like a vaccine.”

DEFRA said “scrupulous standards of biosecurity remain essential” as it lifted the housing measures that have applied across England and Wales following an updated assessment of the threat level “using the latest scientific evidence and a robust risk assessment”.

With bird flu risk levels reduced, “poultry and other captive birds will no longer need to be housed and can be kept outside, unless they are in a Protection Zone”, the department announced, confirming that “eggs laid by hens with access to outside range areas can return to being marketed as ‘Free-Range’ eggs”.

DEFRA added: “The scale of avian influenza outbreaks across the UK and Europe [has] been unprecedented, with over 330 cases confirmed across the country since late October 2021.” It said enhanced biosecurity requirements brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) would remain in force.

As he prepared to let a young flock out for the first time, Keith admitted that he was already concerned about the next lockdown. “It’s a real worry; we need to find a proper solution to the problem,” he said. “The birds get used to being outside and it’s not good for their welfare to be kept in.

“They go to the pop holes in the morning wanting to go out and, that means there’s lots of pushing and shoving. It can be a real headache for a few weeks after the lockdown takes effect. We do our best to create a bit of interest in the sheds, but they are happier outside, particularly when they are used to it.”

Woodlands Poultry Farm, which is owned by Keith’s wife Claire and her brother Craig Cooper, has around 12,000 birds on site when fully stocked, but sources eggs from other suppliers to meet increasing demand. The business supplies shops, restaurants and wholesalers across Kent and into London, with four vans making regular deliveries. It employs 14 people.

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