Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens has today confirmed that the strain of avian flu found on the free-range egg unit near Banbury, Oxfordshire, is highly pathogenic H7N7.

Preliminary analysis indicates that this H7N7 strain is likely to be related to viruses which have occasionally been detected in domestic poultry and wild birds elsewhere in Europe. Further laboratory tests are in progress.

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.

Following confirmation of the virus subtype as H7N7, the Health Protection Agency has confirmed that the risk to public health remains low. The Agency has reviewed current procedures based on the best evidence available and is confident that all necessary steps are being taken to protect those people who may have been exposed to the virus on the premises or involved in disease control activities.

Last night the family at the centre of the outbreak spoke of the devastation. Speaking to the Oxford Mail, the Court family said the past two days had been a nightmare, culminating yesterday with the slaughter of their flock of 25,000 hens.

Jonathon Court said the family had run Eastwood Farm, near Banbury, for more than 50 years and the free-range poultry unit for five years. He explained that an increase in bird deaths prompted them to call in a vet.

He added: “The source of the disease is not yet known and DEFRA will continue to make further investigations to try to identify this.”

Yesterday also saw the Temporary Control Zone replaced with Protection and Surveillance Zones. The 3km inner zone is now a Protection Zone and the 10km outer zone is now a Surveillance Zone.

Restrictions include the housing or otherwise isolation from contact with wild birds in the Protection Zone. All bird gatherings in the Protection and Surveillance Zones are banned. Other movements of birds and some products are also banned in those zones.