OVER 12,000 free-range laying hens are being culled after a 'highly pathogenic' strain of bird flu was discovered on a farm, near Silecroft, Copeland over the weekend.

And with this latest outbreak of avian flu and others in North Yorkshire, it is believed all bird keepers could soon be told to keep their flocks indoors.

The Government introduced a prevention zone on Sunday night in North Yorkshire to make the control a legal requirement.

Meanwhile farm leaders in Cumbria are urging all poultry keepers to remain vigilant and report any signs of disease in their birds.

National Farmers Union (NFU) North West poultry adviser Helen Wainwright said: “I would urge all poultry keepers, including members of the public with pet birds, a backyard flock or smallholding, to continue practicing enhanced biosecurity at all times.

"It’s crucial everyone remains vigilant, checks which restrictions are in place for their specific area and reports any signs of disease in their birds at the earliest opportunity.”

Cumbria County Council said yesterday that further testing at the Copeland premises was confirmed as a highly pathogenic strain (HPAI H5N1).

The authority said a 3km protection zone and 10km surveillance zone had been introduced following the cases being identified

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type and is often fatal in birds. However, the risk to public health remains very low.

Avian Influenza is a disease which mainly affects birds, but on rare occasions, it can affect mammals including humans.

Consequently, several precautionary measures have been put in place around the affected premises - including a 3km protection zone, a 10km surveillance zone and the humane culling of birds at risk of infection.

The zones restrict access to locations where birds are kept and impose restrictions on the movement of birds.

They do not limit access to residents or business owners. Further details on the zones can be found on the government website. The protection and surveillance zones will apply from 19 November until the zone is withdrawn or amended by DEFRA.

Temporary road signs will be put in place along the zone boundaries for awareness.

If you come across dead or sick birds, DO NOT touch or pick them up.

Please report them via the Defra helpline: 03459 33 55 77.

For the latest updates, advice and guidance, especially if you keep birds, visit the government website.

If you employ people who work with poultry or work with poultry yourself, you can also read Health and Safety Executive advice on protecting workers from avian influenza.