POULTRY keepers are confident they can hold onto the free range status of their eggs as they face an extension of the regulations to combat bird flu.

Commercial poultry and egg producers in Wales have expressed relief that they can retain their free-range status after the Welsh Government gave the go-ahead to “controlled access” to outside areas under new bird flu rules to be implemented in March.

With expert advice suggesting that the current level of risk is unlikely to change before the current avian influenza prevention zone ends on February 28, a new prevention zone will be introduced.

This will include flexibility to help farmers who could lose their free-range status if birds are kept indoors for longer.

But there are conditions – producers will be required to introduce additional risk mitigation measures.

Eighty-nine percent of Welsh egg production is free range but producers would face losing that status if their birds are housed for more than 12 weeks.

But the latest measures announced by rural affairs secretary Lesley Griffiths do also give keepers the option of allowing them outside but netted to keep wild birds and other carriers away or to carry out a self-assessment to allow controlled access to outside areas.

This would be subject to a range of biosecurity measures which include disinfection, rodent control and restrictions on contact or movements of people and equipment.

Clare Morgan, who runs a large scale free range egg business near Haverfordwest with her husband, Stephen, and is chairman of the NFU Cymru Poultry Board, says allowing farmers to make informed decisions was a welcome relief.

Their system had been destocked when the control measures came into force but they have now taken delivery of new pullets and were concerned at the implications further housing restrictions would have had on their flock.

“We would have been in a loss-making situation if we had been unable to market our eggs as free range,’’ she admits.

But she is concerned at the possible implications if Wales experiences another avian flu outbreak later in the year.

Full details of the new measures are as follows:

Keepers of poultry and other captive birds in the new Avian Influenza Prevention Zone must ensure:

1. They complete the Welsh Government Avian Influenza Prevention Zone Self Assessment Form.

2. They adopt one or more of the following:

(i) house their birds

(ii) keep totally separate from wild birds, by use of netting etc

(iii) allow controlled access to outside areas, subject to applying additional risk mitigation measures.

3. Wild birds cannot access bedding, feed and water intended for poultry and other captive birds.

4. Any person who comes into contact with poultry and other captive birds must take all reasonable precautions to avoid the transfer of contamination between premises, including cleansing and disinfection of equipment, vehicles and PPE and the changing of boots/footwear between houses/different areas of site.

5. Steps are taken to reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry or captive birds are kept to minimise contamination between premises. Robust records must be maintained of any movements in or out of the poultry or other captive birds area.

6. Vermin control programmes are implemented, including making the area and buildings where poultry or captive birds are kept inaccessible and unattractive to wild birds.

7. Housing and equipment is thoroughly cleansed and disinfected at the end of a production cycle.

8. The area where poultry or other captive birds are kept is regularly checked for signs of wild bird access and appropriate corrective action taken immediately.

9. Boot dips using approved disinfectants at the appropriate concentration, must be kept at all points where people must use it, such as, but not limited to, farm entrances and before entering poultry housing or enclosures.

10. Domestic waterfowl (ducks and geese) are kept separately from, and cannot make contact with, other domestic species.

11. Regular health checks of the birds are completed and any changes in bird health are discussed with a private veterinary. If a notifiable disease is suspected then this should be immediately reported to APHA.

12. The site is regularly inspected and kept clean, any spillages are immediately cleaned.

The completed Self Assessment Form should be retained and provided for inspection if requested by representatives from APHA or local authorities.

Complete guidance and forms are available from gov.wales/topics/environmentcountryside/ahw/disease/avianflu/?lang=en