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Gamefarmers across the country are nervously waiting to see if the latest and largest outbreak of bird flu spreads any further. The shooting season may be over, but the outbreak at the Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Holton, Suffolk, could have a serious impact on the next shooting season.

DEFRA is in the process of trying to trace how the outbreak started. Though no official restrictions have been placed on shooting by DEFRA, clubs in the area have imposed voluntary curbs. When the killer H5N1 strain of bird flu was first discovered in Cellardyke, in Scotland, in April 2006, there was a degree of confusion over what action shooters should take ? this time around shooters are still waiting for guidance.

A spokesman from the NGO told ST: ?It is fortunate, from the gamekeeping standpoint, that the gameshooting season has just ended, while gamerearing for next winter has not yet begun. The impact on gamekeeping, even close to the outbreak, should be comparatively small so long as the disease is contained. Had this outbreak occurred a month ago or in two months? time, gamekeeping and shooting would have been much more directly affected. We can only hope that the outbreak is rapidly treated so that planning for next season can continue unaffected.?

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) highlighted the need for an increase in biosecurity measures: ?Clean overalls and footwear should be worn when entering shedding or pens where birds are kept. Protective clothing and footwear should be removed and either cleansed and disinfected, laundered or disposed of after use.? Where shooting is concerned BASC issued a statement saying: ?As the outbreak is in a commercial flock, there are currently no legal requirements to stop shooting activities in any of the restricted zones. This situation is currently under review and may change over the next few days.?

The only national restriction imposed to date is on bird gatherings such as pigeon racing and falconry meets. Within the entire restricted zone kept birds, including gamebirds, must be housed or otherwise isolated from wild birds.

The Countryside Alliance called for a reasonable and proportionate response to the incident. Chief executive Simon Hart said: ?It seems unlikely that this will be the last case of H5N1 found in the UK, and future outbreaks will have to be dealt with on an individual basis. Closing down large tracts of unaffected countryside could do more damage to rural communities than the disease itself.?

For more information, visit www.defra.gov.uk or contact DEFRA?s helpline, tel 0845 933 5577. Visit the NGO website, www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk or contact the BASC hotline, tel (01244) 573056.