The egg and meat businesses could be decimated unless every poultry keeper follows the avian influenza (bird flu) lockdown rules.

That's the stark warning from the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA).

The organisation warns that action is needed from all poultry keepers in order to avoid a disaster.

There have been nearly 300 cases of avian influenza in wild birds - but, so far, strict biosecurity has limited cases at commercial premises to just 21.

Bird flu has been confirmed in wild birds in Cornwall, Dorset and Devon.

The organisation has had many reports of small flocks and back-garden poultry keepers not following their legal obligation under the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) to house them to prevent contact with wild birds – the source of the virus spread.

The association is reminding all smallholders with 50 or more birds that they are legally required to register them with Defra so that they can be contacted during an outbreak of avian influenza and prevent further spread, even if only kept as pets.

Those with fewer than 50 birds are also encouraged to register.

Restrictions have been in place since December 14 for all poultry.

This includes chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, partridges, quails, guinea fowl, pheasants and pigeons bred for meat.

They must be housed indoors.

Read more: What are the new rules for chicken keepers?

BFREPA CEO Robert Gooch said: “I am deeply concerned to hear reports of poultry seen outdoors during the most serious outbreak of avian influenza we have ever experienced.

"Farmers have been committed to strict biosecurity rules since the beginning of the current lockdown and have helped prevent further outbreaks.

“As we tackle the spread of avian influenza, it is imperative that all poultry owners – large and small – are keeping their birds indoors.

"It is not an ideal situation, but necessary, as we all play our part in minimising the spread of this devastating disease.”

Robert added that BFREPA is concerned that a number of families who purchased and re-homed chickens for their gardens while spending more time at home due to lockdown restrictions may not be aware of their legal obligation.

“Not all families will have heard about the housing order or indeed about the outbreak, so it’s essential that we continue getting the message across loud and clear."

Robert added: “For those simply ignoring the law, I have to stress that spreading the disease is increasing the likelihood of whole flocks of birds being culled – an option no one wants to see come to fruition and an outcome that can be prevented.”

Failure to follow the rules and house your birds could lead to a prison sentence of up to six months and an unlimited fine.