Poultry farmers in the south west are well prepared for an avian flu outbreak, but the consequences will be catastrophic for any who are affected.

John Widdowson, vice-chairman of the British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association, said most farmers had increased their biosecurity measures and minimised any contact between farmed poultry and wild birds.

“We’ve known about avian flu since last summer so we’ve had plenty of time to think about it.”

As free range hens come indoors overnight few farmers would have problems housing their birds if necessary, said Mr Widdowson.

And DEFRA had done a good job of consulting with the industry and preparing for the worst, he added.

“I’m sure if it does get into the UK poultry population it will be stamped out very quickly.”

However, any farmers who were affected would be in dire straits.

Compensation would only be paid for uninfected birds which were slaughtered, and affected farmers would be out of business for months, said Mr Widdowson.

It would also be very difficult to restock quickly.

“If you’re caught up in it, it really will be serious.

The consequences will be dire.”

Meanwhile, DEFRA has come under attack for instructing a car mechanic to bury a dead duck found outside a garage at Ivybridge, Devon, without it being checked for avian flu.

A spokesman for charity Animal Aid said the decision showed great incompetence.

“DEFRA’s part in the foot-and-mouth cull was marked with incompetence and callousness, and I think it’s going to be the same again.”