To abide with emergency Defra measures the British Hen Welfare Trust at South Molton is unable to rescue any birds for three months

North Devon charity the British Hen Welfare Trust says it has been forced to let 12,000 hens go to slaughter due to the threat of bird flu.

Defra announced an Avian Flu Prevention Zone on December 6 for 30 days requiring all captive poultry to be kept indoors.

The prevention zone was extended on Wednesday (January 4) until February 28 and requires all poultry keepers by law to keep their birds under cover and separate from wild birds.

As a result the charity at South Molton said around 12,000 hens it had been due to collect in December, January and February have now gone to slaughter.

It urged everyone keeping backyard hens to remain within the law and to protect their birds by keeping them under cover.

Jane Howorth MBE, charity founder, said: "We are best known for saving the lives of thousands of hens intended for slaughter so this is a difficult time for us. However, we take pride in acting responsibly and agree that Defra's decision to extend the prevention zone to help protect national backyard and commercial poultry was the right one.

"Everything we do as a charity revolves around hen welfare so we are greatly saddened that 12,000 hens didn't get their chance to enjoy a free range retirement, but we are looking forward to March when we hope that thousands will be able to enjoy the spring sunshine for the first time.

"We must thank our supporters who have been understanding and continue to patiently wait for their hens, as the hens themselves are patiently waiting for their chance to become family pets."

When the Government Chief Vet declared the zone in December, Defra said: 'Keepers of poultry and other captive birds are now required to keep their birds indoors, or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds'.

The British Hen Welfare Trust has extensive information and guidance on managing backyard flocks on its website, including the best ways to keep hens entertained while confined indoors. Visit bhwt.org.uk for more information and if you would like to be put on the waiting list to re-home hens in March.

Alternatively, call 01884 860084.