Norfolk's worsening bird flu crisis is now a national emergency which demands a "war footing" from government, an MP has told ministers.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman says the government is not doing enough to combat an epidemic which has seen more than 40 avian influenza cases recorded in the county since the start of October.

The most recent cases confirmed by Defra on Wednesday night included one in Stalham and two near Dereham.

It puts Norfolk at the epicentre of the nation's worst-ever bird flu outbreak - particularly in Breckland virus hotspots within Mr Freeman's constituency where hundreds of thousands of chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks have been culled.

In addition to the outbreaks on farms, there have also been reports of large numbers of dead and dying wild birds, with clusters on the Norfolk Broads and on the coast.

Mr Freeman has written to newly-appointed environment secretary Thérèse Coffey to raise "very urgent and serious concerns" about the impact on the region's nationally-important poultry industry.

He welcomed "essential" new biosecurity rules and a mandatory regional housing order requiring all captive birds - including free-range and backyard flocks - to be brought indoors to limit the spread of the disease.

But his letter says "these measures alone are not enough" to save poultry businesses, adding: "A number of local farmers have made it clear that, unless urgent action is taken to tackle the crisis and support businesses, they will go under."

He told the EDP: "I want to put this right on top of Thérèse Coffey's in-tray.

"I want to make sure Defra have gripped this properly as a national emergency - I am not convinced they have yet.

"I welcome the fact that the government has introduced some excellent measures, but all the suggestions I am getting from the industry is that it is bigger than that. It needs Defra to get on much more of a war footing."

Mr Freeman's letter includes comments from one Norfolk poultry business which has lost more than 100,000 birds and fears the toll will get worse, while another says the "situation is completely out of control and is getting worse by the day".

Others said the outbreak needs to be treated as a "major incident", with calls for fast-tracked bird flu vaccines and compensation payments which allow farmers to recoup the "full value of all stock on their farms, rather than simply for animals culled" - in line with the approach to notifiable diseases in other livestock sectors.

Mr Freeman added: "The compensation has got to be structured to incentivise people to report it [the virus] early.

"Unless they are compensated properly, inevitably smaller farmers and businesses will be tempted to keep their fingers crossed and hope there is not a problem."

The MP, who has been re-appointed as a science minister by new prime minister Rishi Sunak, also called for greater "emphasis and investment in research for vaccinations" - something which many East Anglian farmers have also been demanding.

"Whitehall and Westminster has traditionally taken the view that if a few birds die every now and again it is not a big problem, but I don't think that's fair on an industry where the margins are so small," he said.

Earlier this month, the UK's chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said existing vaccines used in other countries are "not hugely effective" against current bird flu strains, and they make it difficult to identify the difference between infected and vaccinated birds - causing problems for monitoring programmes.

She said although there is a lot of international scientific discussion on how to improve and implement vaccines, it is not likely to provide an immediate solution.

Norfolk is at the heart of a key poultry-producing region, with the east of England containing more than a fifth of the country's poultry farms and producing about 41pc of its turkeys.

Although avian influenza can be devastating for birds, the UK Health Security Agency advise that the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency says it poses a very low food safety risk.

Poultry keepers and members of the public should report dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 and keepers should report suspicion of disease to APHA on 03000 200 301.