Bird flu: Norfolk farmer calls for poultry to be vaccinated amid UK's biggest ever outbreak

  • Watch ITV News Anglia's report from Rob Setchell

There are calls for poultry to be vaccinated against bird flu as the UK faces its largest ever outbreak, with fears also growing for the wild bird population.

More than 100 cases have been confirmed over the last eight months and an avian influenza prevention zone is in force across Great Britain, meaning all bird keepers must follow strict biosecurity measures to limit the spread of the disease.

Mark Gorton runs Traditional Norfolk Poultry, which has 60 farms across East Anglia. He said the company had never seen a bird flu outbreak, but nearby cases had often meant more restrictions, paperwork and costs.

He now believes vaccination is the best solution.

He said: "There's a huge amount of upheaval and turmoil associated with it, whether we get the actual disease or not. All livestock are vaccinated for one thing or another, just like we are, so that's what we need to do.

"I think that would massively help the industry, protect the farmers, protect the business and protect people getting chicken on their plate."

Bird flu has been confirmed at the RSPB's Minsmere reserve Credit: ITV Anglia

More than 60 birds at the RSPB reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk have died from the disease this month.

The RSPB said visitors may have noticed more dead birds than usual.

Staff can do little but look on as bird flu takes its toll. Terns, gulls, and an endangered kittiwake are among the victims.

Nick Forster, the senior site manager at RSPB Minsmere, said: "One of my favourite birds is the sandwich tern and to see them unwell and then dying is really heartbreaking.

"Bird flu has been a winter issue in this country and that's meant that it's really impacted on geese that flock together at that time of year.

"But the fact that it's later in the year means that birds that breed communally such as seabirds have really taken the brunt."

The RSPB said it was extremely concerned about the potential impacts on populations of the birds, which are already suffering from the effects of climate change and overfishing.

DEFRA said it was continuing to investigate the problem, with £1.5m for new research having been announced earlier this week.

As part of that, the Animal and Plant Health Agency will be leading a consortium of eight scientific groups with the task of finding new ways of tacking future outbreaks.

They will look in detail at how bird flu spreads between wild birds and farmed poultry as well as mapping and modelling the spread over time and across species.

The UK's chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: "This consortium will allow us to combine our expertise at a national level to increase the speed and quality of our research, ensuring we can develop new strategies to aid our efforts against this insidious disease and hopefully in time reduce the impact on the poultry sector."

However, the RSPB has questioned that approach.

"The government have committed to putting £1.5m into a research programme and have told the scientists to basically sort it out within a year," he said.

"In my view that's not how science is done and it does seem like a very small sum of money. It needs more investment and it should be taken seriously."

Those who see dead or dying birds have been urged to report them, and not to go near them.

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