Bird flu-ravaged farmer makes desperate plea for 480 animals not to be killed

A farm owner at risk of losing 480 birds is pleading with the authorities to investigate further culling her livestock after a bird flu outbreak on-site.

In an annual check by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affair (DEFRA), avian influenza – otherwise known as bird flu – may have been present at Chookies Farm and Feed Store in Hacklinge, Kent.

Heartbroken farm owner Sophie Hayes says after recording a non-negative result, the agency then tested another 60 samples.

DEFRA, however, claims that there were initially three positive cases and further investigations flagged up more concerns.

The department has taken the decision to humanely cull all the animals at Chookies Farm which includes swans, pigeons, chickens and ducks, and a hand-reared goose named Laurel, who has her own Facebook page.

Sophie, who has run the pet shop and rescue farm business for around 10 years, wants any cull to be put on hold until a positive case of bird flu has been identified.

She told KentOnline: "These are my babies and there's nothing I can do about it.

"If they were positive I can understand, everyone else needs to be protected.

"With a non-negative result, I don't know how they can justify it?"

She continued: "I don't think it's humane to do it before they're 100%.

"Non-negative doesn't mean that it's positive. It means there's further investigation to be done.

"And it's the low pathogenic avian influenza, not the high which is the serious one. If it's that serious to kill off everything I love here, why are they waiting?"

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A friend of Sophie's, Barry Bolton, describes her as an "avian agony aunt" in a fundraising page set up to support her through the investigation.

More than £100 has been raised on the JustGiving page, 'Save Our Chookies' and other supporters are understood to have sent letters of appeal to case officers.

DEFRA has confirmed "Avian influenza of the H5N2 strain" has been found at the site, and a 1km low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) restricted zone has been placed around the area to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

The advice from Public Health England (PHE) is that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency has made clear that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

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Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “Avian flu has been confirmed at a small commercial premises in Kent.

"Immediate steps have been taken to limit the risk of the disease spreading and all remaining poultry and captive birds at the farm will be culled.

"Public Health England has confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency has said that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

"There will be no impact on food supply as this business does not supply poultry meat or eggs to the commercial food chain.

"Bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspected disease immediately and ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises.

"We are urgently looking for any evidence of disease spread associated with this farm to control and eliminate it."

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