The chief veterinary officer has confirmed that the strain of H7 avian flu discovered in a flock of 25,000 free range layers on a farm near Banbury is highly pathogenic.

Nigel Gibbens said further laboratory tests are in progress to identify the N-type and possible relationships with previously identified viruses. A detailed epidemiological investigation to better understand the origin and development of the disease is also underway.

The farmer at the centre of the outbreak has released a statement through the NFU. “We have been on this family-run farm for more than 50 years and started this free range poultry unit more than five years ago and recently had just built this up to a flock of 25,000 laying birds.

“Having seen an increase in mortality within the flock we alerted our vet to this problem and after careful monitoring of the situation, informed DEFRA of our concerns. DEFRA vets attended the farm and having carried out various tests yesterday confirmed the presence of avian flu strain H7.”

A temporary control zone with a 3km inner zone and a 10km outer zone has been established around the infected premises.

DEFRA has stated that a number of conditions now apply.

  • All birds must be housed or otherwise isolated from contact with wild birds in the inner zone.
  • Bird gatherings are banned and all other movements of birds and some products are banned in the whole of the temporary control zone.

However, DEFRA is now urgently considering whether any wider measures are needed.

Mr Gibbens added: “I would stress the need for poultry keepers to be extremely vigilant, practise the highest levels of biosecurity and report any suspicions of disease to their local Animal Health Office immediately.

Back in 2003, the Dutch poultry sector saw a high pathogenic H7N7 outbreak which spread to Belgium and Germany. In the Netherlands, more than 30m birds – one quarter of the country’s poultry stock – were culled. Some 2.7m were culled in Belgium, and around 400,000 in Germany.

Previous UK outbreaks in poultry