Last week DEFRA imposed shooting restrictions in the 10km surveillance zone around the Bernard Matthews turkey farm infected with bird flu at Holton, in Suffolk, in an attempt to prevent the unnecessary dispersal of wild birds.

Shooting organisations feel their sport has been unfairly singled out while other activities such as rambling are still permitted. Some shooting clubs in the area, upon discovery of the disease, immediately imposed voluntary bans on shooting, but DEFRA, however, delayed by a week before reaching its latest decision on the status of shooting near the turkey farm.

At the beginning of last week (5 February), a DEFRA spokesman told ST: “At the moment there is no need to restrict activities such as gameshooting [despite the season having closed]. Activities of this nature may need to be restricted in the future if it is felt that they would create a significant risk of spreading the disease through large gatherings of people or birds, or cause the dispersal of wild birds.” By last Thursday 8 February, however, DEFRA announced that pigeon shooting and bird-scaring devices should be restricted in order to minimise unnecessary disturbances of wild birds, which could potentially spread the virus further.

In a letter from DEFRA’s exotic disease and strategy communications team, a spokesman said: “These activities create noise and are deemed to disperse birds, which may be to the detriment of disease-control efforts. The ban on shooting, hunting or scaring activities that cause dispersal of wild bird populations in the surveillance zone will be reviewed in light of further epidemiological investigations.”

Pigeon shooting in the 10km surveillance zone may continue where serious agricultural damage is occurring. To do so, however, shooters must first obtain a licence from their local animal health office. Shooting with rifles fitted with sound moderators and airguns, and clayshooting on established sites, is still permitted without a licence.

The Countryside Alliance (CA) voiced its concern that shooters and farmers have had restrictions unfairly placed upon them without a great deal of thought from DEFRA. Robert Gray, campaigns director for the CA, said: “Public health and safety is top priority and we understand that. What we don’t understand is why farmers and shooters are being singled out. There have been no similar restrictions on any other activities in the countryside which ‘create a noise and cause dispersal of wild bird populations’, for example, rambling, trail biking or helicopter use. You either ban all relevant noisy activities or you ban none.”

Dr Peter Marshall, research officer for BASC, told ST: “We brought up our concerns with DEFRA about this being a knee-jerk reaction, but we see that shooting could be detrimental to the ornithological studies until we know for certain that the virus has not got into the wild bird population. It’s a precautionary principle. There is a meeting this week to determine whether the virus is contained or if there is still some threat it could spread. The results of the studies should answer a lot of our questions. We continue to work with DEFRA to make sure the correct decisions are made.”

For more information on this latest outbreak of bird flu visit the Defra website.