A SWINDON farmer is taking precautions against avian flu after outbreaks were reported across the country.

He says special steps are being taken to protect the birds on his farm, including regular checks and a vitamin enriched diet.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced that chickens and ducks with avian flu have been found at a property in Settle, North Yorkshire.

Defra introduced an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone in December, which lasts until February 28, to help protect poultry and captive birds from avian flu.

It requires keepers of poultry and other captive birds to keep them indoors or take steps to keep them separate from wild birds.

Matt Holland, owner of Lower Shaw Farm, has more than 20 chickens along with ducks and geese, all of which must be kept indoors until the restrictions are lifted.

“They are free range chickens so they are used to laying their eggs between 8am and 2pm and then doing what they like after that,” he said.

“They are used to wandering around, eating greenery and having a dustbath, which to a human would be like a shower.

“We take advice from Defra and we take that very seriously as a farm with free-range chickens. It is unfortunate but we have to keep them indoors.

“We believe they are the happiest flock in Wiltshire and they do want to be out and about but we have to be careful.

“Every time we’re walking past they are clucking and getting hopeful that they can return to their normal routine but unfortunately there is nothing we can do.

“We’ve gone from looking after adult animals to having to provide a lot more care, cleaning up after them more and giving more food to ensure they stay safe.They are a really important part of the farm and are all healthy.”

The strain of HN58 avian flu is the same as the one found in Wales on January 3 and at a Lincolnshire farm in December.

England’s chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, said: “Anyone who keeps poultry such as chickens, ducks and geese, even as pets, must take action to stop them coming into contact with wild birds to protect them from avian flu.

“Birds should be moved into a suitable building, or if that isn’t possible owners must take sensible precautions to keep them away from wild birds, like putting up netting to create a temporary enclosure and keeping food and water supplies inside where they cannot be contaminated by wild birds.

The zone covers England and similar restrictions have been introduced in Scotland and Wales.

It was introduced after the H5N8 bird flu strain was found in poultry and wild birds in 14 countries including Germany and France.