A HEARTBROKEN pensioner will close her animal sanctuary after her flock of rescued hens and geese had to be culled following an outbreak of bird flu.

Julie Menzies, 74, who has run Willow Wildlife and Animal Sanctuary since 2004, has been left devastated after cases of avian influenza H5N1 were confirmed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Both 3km and 10km temporary control zones was put in place around the sanctuary, in Thorpe Road, on Thursday and all birds at the site are being culled to stop the spread of the virus.

Former bio-chemist Julie has helped to save or rehome hundreds of chickens over the years and her sanctuary also houses guinea pigs, rabbits and goats.

“I’m heartbroken - it’s devastating,” she said.

“For the first time in ten years, I went on holiday and came back to read in the book that two chickens had died."

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

Peaceful - Willow Wildlife and Animal Sanctuary pictured before the outbreak

“I went to bury them and they had looked very healthy.

“Then I noticed two geese were lying down and couldn’t get up. It appeared to affect them neurologically, they looked drunk.

“I knew something was seriously wrong, so I phoned Defra and they came down and took blood samples and found H5N1. It was a tremendous shock.

“They were here until the middle of the night and would not let anyone on the land.

“23 birds died on one day - I think all the birds in the sanctuary got it.

“I saw one chicken die and fall off its perch in front of me.

“I’m heartbroken, but I am coming to terms with it."

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

Closed - goats living at the sanctuary will now need new homes

“I am concerned about transmitting it to other places, and especially to turkey farms at this time of year.

“Animals come in here very sick and we nurse them back to health - and now they’ve got to be killed and incinerated - it’s just so sad.”

Following the outbreak, Julie was told she could not keep any animals on the land for a year.

“I have therefore decided to close the sanctuary,” she said.

“I’m going to turn it into a wild flower meadow. It had been a lovely thing to do and I am grateful to our volunteers and everyone who supported the charity bridge club that funded the sanctuary.”

The sanctuary previously raised thousands of pounds a year to cover its own costs, partly through a weekly Tuesday bridge club in Kirby – which offered fresh eggs as prizes.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

Rescue chickens - Cornflakes and Kellogs lived at the sanctuary

Dr David Edwards, Public Health England’s Regional deputy director, UK Health Security Agency East, said: “Avian Influenza is primarily a disease of birds and the risk to the general public’s health is very low.

“We are working closely with Defra to monitor the situation and have provided the necessary health advice to anyone on site as a precaution.

“We know the importance of washing hands when it comes to Covid and the same applies here – try not to touch any sick or dead birds and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap after contact with any animal.”

Lynda McWilliams, Tendring Council cabinet member for partnerships, said: “The important thing is for people to react sensibly, understand there is minimal risk to human health, and if you keep birds then to follow the measures set out by the authorities.”

There have been no bird flu cases in people and the risk to human health is very low.