A SMALLHOLDING in the Eden Valley with 240 birds is the latest victim of bird flu in the county.

With Cumbria facing a record number of Highly Pathogenic Avian influenza H5N1 cases, which has led to thousands of birds being destroyed, a plea has gone out urging poultry keepers to play their part in stopping the spread of this devastating disease.

The latest outbreak at Lazonby on January 4 takes the number of cases of bird flu in the county to three, following previous cases at a premises near Silecroft, Copeland in November and a site near Aspatria, Allerdale in December - where 3km protection and 10km surveillance zones remain in place.

David Brass of the Lakes Free Range Egg Company at Penrith said Avian Flu was a real threat at this time of year because of the high number of migratory birds, and he appealed to all bird keepers to comply with the housing order. "The order applies to all bird keepers, not just those with commercial enterprises so it is important that everyone takes all necessary precautions," said Mr Brass, whose company has 70,000 free-range birds held over two sites with most of the egg production carried out by local farmers.

He added: "Defra epidemiological evidence on the cases so far this year in commercial/ back yard flocks has been that the route of AI into the flock has been people or formites e.g. Straw bedding, water ingress, wood shavings bags etc.

"The best way to keep Avian Flu out of flocks of any size is to have really strong biosecurity measures, something commercial poultry producers live with on a day to day basis. People with domestic birds are at the same high risk level, so keeping birds indoors and following a strict biosecurity routine of disinfecting and cleaning are still paramount."

Cumbria County Council say several precautionary measures have been put in place at the Lazonby outbreak- including a 3km protection zone, a 10km surveillance zone and the humane culling of birds at risk of infection.

After Avian Influenza (bird flu) was also detected at commercial premises near Gretna, 3km protection and 10km surveillance zones are in place around this premises too. These zones extend over the Scottish border, however, meaning the measures in place in each zone will impact people in areas near Longtown, Cumbria.

A further case of bird flu was also detected at Annan on December 9.

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.”

Defra chief vet, Dr Christine Middlemiss said there was no room for complacency, with the UK chalking up a record 65 cases of bird flu.

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ), requiring all bird owners to keep their flocks indoors, was introduced on November 3and extended on November 29.

The H5N1 virus - which is highly contagious and can destroy poultry flocks, and on rare occasions can affect mammals including humans.

Colin Cox, Director of Public Health for Cumbria County Council, said: "I want to reassure residents that the risk to public health from avian flu is very low.

"However, it is important people do not touch or pick up any sick or dead birds to avoid spreading the virus, which can affect humans in rare cases.

"If you do find any dead swans, geese or ducks or other dead wild birds while out and about, please report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.”