AN environmental group has raised concerns that the high amount of chicken farms in Powys is a “ticking time bomb” and could lead to a huge outbreak of bird flu.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) has raised concerns about bird flu being spread along the River Wye from the high density of intensive poultry farms after the whole of the UK was placed in an Avian Flu Prevention Zone earlier this month.

Avian flu, also known as bird flu, is on the rise in the UK. So much so that the government has now placed the whole of Great Britain under an Avian Flu Prevention Zone, putting poultry farmers on notice that they may need to keep their birds indoors.

The CPRW has long campaigned for more monitoring of IPUs that are found along the River Wye catchment area in Powys – and has previously created an interactive map of IPU locations, of which there are many, across Powys.

The CPRW joined a coalition of environmental groups in 2020 calling for a moratorium on IPUs in Wales after it found evidence that waste from these chicken farms was finding its way into the Wye in increasing amounts. As the main way of spreading bird flu is through the waste of infected birds, one outbreak in an IPU along the Wye could have catastrophic outcomes.

“The sheer scale of IPUs across Powys and along the River Wye has already had a direct impact on the environment,” said a group spokesperson.

“The river itself has been greatly affected. Now we face the possibility of these intensive poultry farms acting like ticking timebombs with the potential to spread bird flu throughout the entire upper Wye and Severn valleys like wildfire, which would devastate the wild bird population, and possibly go on to effect livestock and even humans should the virus mutate.

“We are calling on Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to take urgent action and start monitoring the waste output of these IPUs very closely and as a matter of priority.

“Furthermore, we are asking NRW to consider the sustainability of this level of density of the poultry farms in Powys and confirm that measures are in place to eliminate or reduce the risk of infection of wild birds through spreading of any potentially contaminated bird waste.”

In the last five years, over 150 IPUs have been approved by Powys County Council, five times more than the rest of Wales. The CPRW has been liaising with its sister organisation across the border in England, the CPRE, as well as local groups, including Friends of the Upper Wye and Friends of the Lower Wye, to conduct citizen science projects along the rivers Wye and Lugg to investigate the phosphate levels likely to have derived from IPU residues.

The CPRW has also petitioned the Welsh Government, asking it to control the rapid expansion of IPUs in Wales. This led to a protracted correspondence with agriculture minister Lesley Griffiths, who did not accept the organisation’s points regarding the environmental risks of the uncontrolled growth of the poultry industry in Powys.

“The CPRW will not point fingers if the worst were to happen but urges the Welsh Government to do more to ensure it doesn’t,” added the CPRW spokesperson.

County Times:  The amount of chicken farms in Powys has long been a cause for concern The amount of chicken farms in Powys has long been a cause for concern (Image: None)

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Last week an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) was put in place to mitigate the increased risk of avian influenza spreading amongst kept birds.

“The AIPZ places legal obligations on bird keepers, making it mandatory for them to follow strict biosecurity measures, to protect their flocks. Similar zone and disease control measures were put in place in the other UK administrations. 

“Biosecurity is the best form of defence against preventing avian influenza, and bird keepers should maintain good biosecurity practices all year round.

“That applies to both small and large flocks, and to wherever they are located. Birds must be kept apart from the avian influenza virus, the source of which is the droppings, feathers and carcases of carrier wild birds.

“Both direct and indirect potential routes of spread are addressed in the mandatory AIPZ measures.

“We continue to work closely with the other UK administrations, operational partners and industry, to manage the threat we all face from avian influenza.

“The UK health agencies advise the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the UK food standards agencies advise avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.”