Relieved Norfolk livestock farmers will soon be able to move their animals more freely as bluetongue restrictions are expected to be lifted "shortly".

Dozens of cases of the potentially-fatal animal disease have been found in cattle and sheep within the 10km Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ) centred near Cantley, where the county's first case was found on December 8.

The zone enforced restrictions which caused disruption and uncertainty for farmers, as licences were needed to move animals out of the zone, which were only permitted where there is an "urgent and genuine welfare need”, or to go directly to slaughter at a designated abattoir.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk's bluetongue temporary control zone (TCZ) was extended slightly on January 27Norfolk's bluetongue temporary control zone (TCZ) was extended slightly on January 27 (Image: Defra)

Some of those restrictions were eased last week, as the risk of transmission reduced during the colder winter weather, because biting midges which spread the disease are not actively feeding.

Now animal health officials have confirmed the zones in both Norfolk and Kent are soon to be lifted completely.

The UK’s chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss posted on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, to say: "As our bluetongue monitoring says we are now in the vector low risk period we’re announcing that the Norfolk and Kent TCZs will shortly be lifted.

"In coming days we contact with farmers who have individual premises under restriction."

The announcement will be welcome news for farmers within the zones.

National Farmers' Union (NFU) deputy president Tom Bradshaw posted a response online which says: "These farmers have carried the burden and cost to protect the whole industry. [It is] positive news that the majority of restrictions will be lifted by mid-Feb."

It is believed the disease was carried here by infected midges, blown across the Channel from Europe during September or October.

Animal health experts say the midges are usually most active between April and November, and low temperatures also mean that the virus cannot replicate in the insect, "so even if a midge does feed on an infected animal, the risk of transmission to another animal is low".

Bluetongue does not affect human health or food safety, but livestock keepers must report suspicions of the virus immediately to the APHA on 03000 200 301.