The UK’s worst bird flu outbreak brings misery for farmers and wild bird populations

The UK’s worst bird flu outbreak brings misery for farmers and wild birds

Poultry farming Credit: TukkataMoji/

The UK’s worst bird flu outbreak is bringing misery for farmers already struggling with increasing supply costs, as it is destroying wild bird populations.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said on Monday, October 3 that more than three million birds have had to be culled so far with Avian Influenza Prevention Zones introduced in Norfolk, Suffolk, parts of Essex and the whole of the South West of England.

So far the disease has been detected at more than 155 sites across the UK and is now at risk of infecting the country’s turkey population, with the wild bird population severely affected.

James Mottershead, Cahir of the NFU Poultry Board, told Sky News: “It is a risk.

“If bird flu, for example, gets into turkeys that could cause holy carnage; that could cause real supply chain issues in the run-up to Christmas time. The realities of it are quite severe.

“I do know of some instances where seasonal turkey producers have been affected by this, so far, this year. If you have an outbreak on your farm and your farm is classed as an infected premise, it is serious – you could be out of production up for up to 12 months.”

Bird farmers with populations of more than 500 in the areas affected are required to restrict access for non-essential people on site, whilst in some areas, farmers have had to cull their populations as a preventative measure.

James Coleman, who runs Creedy Carver farm, is one of those. Although he has had no cases he has been compelled to cull his 20,000 ducks in an effort to protect other farmers.

He told Sky News: “I wouldn’t say we’re clinging on – but it’s had a huge effect.

“At the moment everybody in the industry is just on tenterhooks constantly. As soon as you get a new batch of birds on our other site, you’re permanently worried. Every day you go and look at them and if a duck sneezes in a slightly different fashion, you’re instantly thinking ‘hang on a minute – is something wrong?'”

Creedy is critical of government policy around bird flu with compensation only received for healthy birds culled, but not for diseased ones or for consequential losses.

Speaking of the need for a massive review, he said: “If we’re going to have a situation where the government is going to continue shutting down businesses and shutting down farms, we need financial support.

“The rest of the country had it through COVID – we need that same level of support.

“If we are being forced to close through government policy, we have to have that same financial support that everybody else had so that when we’ve done the clear-out and when we reopen again, we still have a business to come to.”

But it’s not just farmers that are affected, according to a statement from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB):  “We’ve seen declines of between 50 and 80 per cent of the population of Great Skua in the UK and we hold two-thirds of the world population, so that species has gone straight onto the red list.

“These birds are long-lived – you’re talking about birds that don’t even start breeding for five years and then they only have one chick per year, so it might take decades before some of these populations recover.”

A DEFRA statement said: “The UK is currently experiencing the largest-ever outbreak of avian influenza. To date, 3.1 million birds have unfortunately been culled. This represents a small proportion of overall poultry production, around one billion birds a year.

“DEFRA’s objective in tackling any outbreak of avian influenza is to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible from the UK poultry and captive-bird population and regain UK World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) disease-free status.”

The UK’s worst bird flu outbreak follows hot on the heels of national bird day and threatens to bring more misery for farmers and potentially the need to import Christmas turkeys.

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Written by

Peter McLaren-Kennedy

Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at