DEFRA is calling on farmers and the public to report any suspicious bird deaths as part of a major surveillance programme to check for the possible presence of avian flu.

The next few weeks will see the arrival of many thousands of migratory birds from Siberia, where the H5N1 strain of the disease has wiped out several commercial poultry flocks.

Fears that it could be spreading west were raised last week after an outbreak in a turkey flock in Turkey was confirmed.

The exact strain has yet to be confirmed, although the EU Commission has banned all live bird and feather imports from that country.

In a separate incident, the Romanian authorities reported a suspect case of avian flu last week, although as Farmers Weekly went to press on Wednesday, the news from Brussels was that the disease had not been confirmed.

The risk of migrating birds bringing the deadly H5N1 strain to the UK was described as “low” by chief vet Debby Reynolds this week.

But DEFRA has still launched a major survey, working with UK ornithological and conservation groups to monitor wild birds.

The three-month programme involves taking samples of live birds caught in traps, a small number of birds shot by wildfowlers and birds found dead.

The public is also being urged to report any unusually large groups of dead birds to its helpline on 08459 335577.

Species being monitored include teal, mallard, pintail, shoveler, tufted duck, gadwell, pochard and lapwing.