The French bird flu outbreak may be beginning to slow, but significant numbers of new cases are continuing and the disease has reached areas which were previously unaffected.

Meanwhile, shortages of pheasant eggs and chicks are beginning to affect British shoots. The outbreak is focused on the Vendée department in North West France; this department and the neighbouring Loire Atlantique are vital to the supply of game bird chicks and eggs to the UK. Weekly data published by the French agriculture ministry showed that on the 5th of April there were 510 infected premises in Vendée, which was an increase of 17 on the previous week.

While the number of cases increased, the rate at which it increased was much lower than the previous week, which saw 40 new cases. While this was a hopeful development, cases in the neighbouring department of Maine-et-Loire are not slowing. There was more worrying news from Finisterre in Brittany where a new outbreak was detected in an area that is vital for French poultry production and which was previously unaffected.

The Finisterre outbreak will lead to a new round of ‘firebreak culling’ which may affect more small-scale game producers. It is also of concern because the migratory wildfowl, which normally spread the disease, have mainly left France for their breeding grounds, suggesting some other process is spreading the virus.

Problems getting eggs

So far the effect in the UK has largely been felt by game farmers and by shoots looking for partridge eggs and chicks. However as shoots which rear their own birds from chicks and eggs try to get hold of pheasant eggs and chicks the effect is now becoming clearer. Larger shoots remained tight-lipped about the effect on them and their plans, however Karl Elton, who runs his own small shoot along with his partner, told Shooting Times: “We would normally try and hatch around 3,000 pheasant eggs which we buy through a game farmer.

“This year he couldn’t get us any eggs at all, so we worked our way round a number of other game farmers and contacts in the industry, at the moment we are getting nowhere, but we have some suggestions for people to try and so we are not giving up yet.”