As the Avian Influenza (AI) housing-order draws to a close farmers of free range poultry are breathing a sign of relief - but the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) is concerned about farmers in designated high risk areas.

Due to the outbreak of AI all UK poultry farmers were ordered to house their birds as of December 7, 2016, and the restriction will remain in place until March 1.

Safeguards were put in place, and eggs from the housed birds were still labelled as free range, despite the birds being housed for more than the 12-week maximum defined by regulations.

But now the BFREPA are concerned about poultry farmers in high risk areas, as for them the housing order could be extended and their eggs will lose their free range status.

Robert Gooch, chief executive of BFREPA, said: "Our members have coped fantastically with the unprecedented challenge of housing their birds.

"They have focused on the welfare of their flocks at all times and will be hugely relieved if they are able to let birds out again on March 1.

"We have lobbied hard for the UK governments to lift the housing order as soon as it is safe to do so to protect our members from losing their free range status.

"But there are those producers in the high risk area who will be forced to continue to house birds.

"They face the prospect of their eggs being downgraded which we estimate to cost businesses at least 20p per dozen.

"At this stage we are unsure of the exact number of producers that are going to have to continue to house their flocks, but BFREPA is already working with the government, packers, retailers and industry to find solutions for these producers and will continue to do so.

"All producers should follow the new enhanced biosecurity guidelines and start preparing their ranges now for March 1."