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For fifty years or more, locals in South Norfolk and North Suffolk have become so used to seeing chickens at the roundabout on the A143 - it has simply become known as the “chicken” roundabout. A few years ago a bright spark at the Norfolk County Council had a plan to get rid of these feral feather-shedders, but he was scuppered by the local residents who mounted a co-ordinated campaign to save the birds by having “Chicken Alert” signs erected on the approaches to the roundabout. Norfolk County Council abandoned their plans.
Andy Barber, local musician, cartoonist and poultry fan was so moved by the plight of the chickens that he was moved to write a song about them. It's called, rather poignantly, the Bungay Chicken Protest Song. May not make him famous, but it will make him popular with local chicken fanciers.
The CD is available from the Post Office, Ditchingham and the Green Dragon pub in Bungay.
Aside: this Green Dragon is an excellent pub. They have some super local ales and some of the best pizza you'll find this side of Bologna. Check it out first chance you get!
That wasn't the end of the problems for the chickens either. Some people have, apparently, been stealing them. Hen campaigners believe (until recently) they are being rustled.
"The hens and their chicks have been sort of systematically - we think - stolen and sold," said long-time supporter Deidra Shepherd.
"They are quite famous. They are very interesting interbreeds and I think people are very interested in them and they want to acquire them so they have been disappearing.
You have a mother with chicks all doing very well and you go the next day and she is gone - and it's not foxes, it's not mink."
Norfolk police have been asked to investigate the disappearing chickens.
Well, I ask you – is nothing sacred?
Just when things were beginning to look up for the Ditchingham chickens, along comes bird flu. No guessing required as to the reaction of the paranoid chicken haters of East Anglia -they've started to dump their unwanted chicks at the roundabout! The population has doubled since H5N1 became a hot topic. From the usual 50 or so, the population has swelled to over 150 in the last few weeks. Bungay resident Gordon Knowles has fed the Ditchingham chickens for years - and he's not happy. He says people are just dumping unwanted chickens at the roundabout. And it's costing him a packet! He's up to three bags of feed a week and all the bread he can get. He thinks 80 or 90 have arrived recently. (That's a lot of chickens! And, the newcomers are not doing so well. Apparently, you can spot recent arrivals by their flattened innards littering the road!) Gordon thinks it would be a shame if the chicks – who have survived chicken rustlers, threats of eviction by the council and a plague of rats fell foul to a virus.
So, if bird flu becomes a reality, not just a distant threat - what happens to the resident Ditchingham birds? A spokes man for the council says that because the chickens are wild birds, they are no-one's actual responsibility. In other words – sod the damn things – it's nothing to do with us!
Is time running out for Ditchingham's most famous residents? Will anyone organise a campaign to protect them for this insidious threat? Why are the vaccination vans not already on site? There are questions to be answered.