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School farms in bird flu alert

School farms are taking extra precautions to protect their flocks from bird flu.

The disease has not yet been found in the UK, but in the past few days infected wild birds have been reported in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Slovenia.

Martin Wedgwood, advanced skills teacher for rural environment education at a Staffordshire high school, is responsible for 30 birds on its farm, including turkeys, ducks, hens and guinea fowl.

"We have taken the birds out of their pens, which were open to the sky, and have put them into an inside area with a wired outdoor run. So no wild ducks will get near our ducks," said Mr Wedgwood, who works at Thomas Alleyne's high school, Uttoxeter.

"We have no restrictions on students working with birds at the moment, but everything would be reviewed if there was an outbreak in the UK.

"Visits from other schools are still going ahead. We are not panicking, but we are keeping a close eye on the situation and taking account of advice."

The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens is advising school farms to take similar precautions to regular farms.

Ian Egginton-Metters, assistant director, said: "It is not that the risk is any greater, but the perception of the risk in schools means that a number of school farms are taking additional precautions.

"They have brought birds inside or into netted areas and some have put disinfectant mats and footbaths at the entrances to enclosures. Some are even using disposable gloves when handling birds."

Farmers have been told by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to prepare to move birds inside.

Health experts fear the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has killed millions of birds since 2003, could mutate into a strain more easily spread among humans.

Since December 2003, 170 people have contracted bird flu and 92 have died.

The World Health Organisation has said the greatest risk to people is from close contact with infected birds.

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