free-range chickens© Tim Scrivener

The absolute ban on bird movements within 3km of the outbreak of high-path avian influenza has been lifted, leaving a 10km surveillance zone in its place.

Any movement of poultry in this zone will remain strictly under licence, alongside a range of other measures aimed at reducing the risk of disease spread.

See also: Read more on bird flu news

A Defra spokesperson said the change was largely procedural, with initial cleansing and culling at Stavely’s Eggs, near Preston, already complete. 

The farm, which had 180,000 hens in colony and free-range systems, is now undertaking secondary cleansing and disinfection.

It has also emerged that several movement licences have been issued, marking a return to normality for the businesses affected by the outbreak.

News of the outbreak first emerged on 10 July, with chief vet Nigel Gibbens confirming the type as H7N7 some three days later.

It is thought a low-pathogen variant of the same strain had mutated within the poultry shed, though a full epidemiology report is still being compiled. The original source of the outbreak is likely to be wild birds, though such a mutation is a rare event.

Licensed movement

The removal of the protection zone means bird movements can begin under licence throughout a 10km radius of the disease epicentre.

That 10km zone will remain in place until secondary cleansing and disinfection is complete, something which will take some weeks.

It will be a further three months after this before the UK gains AI-free status – and with it the resumption of normal trade.

It is understood that licences have recently been granted for the movement of day-old chicks into the surveillance zone, movement of pullets from the surveillance zone and movement of poultry within the zone.

These three certificates will come as a relief to businesses also within the safety net, principally Tom Barron Hatcheries, which rears laying hens, and Gafoor Pure Halal, a slaughterhouse in Preston.