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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 March 2006, 13:04 GMT
Flu fears blamed for dumped hens
An increase in the number of hens in a 50-year-old wild flock is thought be the result of owners dumping their birds amid fears over avian flu.

Known as the Ditchingham Fifty, the birds live on the Norfolk/Suffolk border on the A143.

But since the threat of bird flu the number of birds pecking at the side of the A143 has risen to about 200.

Gordon Knowles, 74, of Bungay, feeds them every day and says scared owners are dumping their birds.

The Ditchingham chickens are a well-known feature of Norfolk and hopefully will remain so for years to come
Norfolk County Council

A fall in sales at poultry markets may also have contributed to the sudden increase, said Mr Knowles.

Mr Knowles gets up early to push his wheelbarrow two miles to tend to them.

"There are now dozens and dozens of them - easily between 100 and 200," he said.

"It is surprising how many people love the chickens. They are classed as wild and if you don't feed them then they will cause accidents."

Road safety concerns

Norfolk County Council spokesman Steve Reilly told the BBC: "There is absolutely no reason why the Ditchingham chickens, which are clearly wild birds, should be disturbed at the moment - or, for that matter, any reason why people should be abandoning poultry anywhere.

"The Ditchingham chickens are a well-known feature of Norfolk and hopefully will remain so for years to come.

"However, agencies will keep the situation under review and will take all actions necessary to protect public health

"If anyone does notice that there are a number of dead chickens at the site, then they should contact the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs," he commented.

The flock first hit the headlines four years ago when Norfolk county councillors flagged up their concerns about road safety on the A143 and wanted them moved on.

After protests from local residents they were allowed to stay.


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