A TOTAL lockdown of poultry has been imposed after rising numbers of bird flu cases, including seven in North Yorkshire, where thousands of birds have been culled.

Farming leaders have called for calm and say while it is "horrible and upsetting" there is no cause for panic. Defra has imposed orders across the country that all poultry must be kept inside, effective from yesterday (Monday, November 29).

The order applies to all bird owners, from big commercial producers who may have thousands of turkeys and chickens to people with just a handful, including captive birds. They say Christmas supplies of poultry are not expected to be hit and there is no known threat to people from the bird flu virus

Anna Simpson, poultry lead for the NFU North East, said: "While it is really upsetting and horrible it is not going to affect the food chain. It is not alarming, there is no need to panic. We are advising people to follow the rules that are in place, make sure you have bio security measures and all commercial birds and back yard birds are kept indoors.

"The big commercial producers have procedures in place, when it comes to a national housing order such as this, it is the smaller breeders and people with a few birds that we have to get the message out to, all birds need to be kept inside. There will not be a problem with poultry supplies for Christmas, the numbers of birds that are being culled is a tiny percentage."

The first case in England was discovered in Worcestershire on October 27, while bans on movement and indoor orders were imposed in North Yorkshire on November 14 after an outbreak at a commercial producers near Leeming Bar. Since then there has been a further outbreak at different premises nearby and bird flu has been discovered at five separate premises in the Thirsk area. A third of all cases recorded in the country so far have been in North Yorkshire.

The UK's Chief Veterinary Officers said in a joint statement: "Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you will be legally required to keep birds indoors, or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds. We have not taken this decision lightly, taking this action now is the best way to protect birds from this highly infectious disease."

The virus is brought in by wild birds migrating from other parts of Europe and Russia.