CULLING of thousands of ducks has been taking place on a farm hit by bird flu as officials confirmed it was the same strain of the virus as one recently identified on the continent.

Some 6,000 ducks were being killed on the farm at Nafferton, near Driffield, East Yorkshire, which is operated by the UK's largest producer of duck and duck products, Cherry Valley, following the identification of "highly pathogenic" H5N8 bird flu.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the disease was the same strain as one confirmed at a chicken farm in the central Netherlands province of Utrecht, and in Germany.

But the advice from the chief medical officer and Public Health England remained that the risk to public health from the virus is "very low" and the Food Standards Agency has said there is no food safety risk for consumers.

A Defra spokeswoman said the cull to prevent the potential spread of infection was being carried out in a "safe and humane manner" by fully-trained staff from the government's Animal and Plant Health Agency.

"Our animal health laboratory at Weybridge has confirmed that the outbreak of avian influenza in East Yorkshire is the H5N8 strain," the spokeswoman said.

John Vernam, Cherry Valley's managing director of UK Operations, said understanding the strain of bird flu was an important step forward and the company was "keen" to find out how the outbreak happened in due course.

"We have followed all the necessary procedures, which are robust and well established. We are working closely with Defra and other agencies and are confident that the controls in place are proportionate to the risks involved," he said.

The cull at the farm, where the alarm was raised by a private vet on Friday, comes after the transport of poultry and eggs throughout the Netherlands was banned following the H5N8 outbreak in Utrecht.

Officials have been quick to reassure the public that the bird flu virus was not the H5N1 strain which has led to hundreds of deaths in people worldwide. Most types of bird flu are harmless to humans but two types - H5N1 and H7N9 - have caused serious concerns.

They are still investigating whether the virus could have been the result of the commercial transport of birds, or carried by wild birds which are also affected by bird flu.

Andrew Large, chief executive of The British Poultry Council, estimates that 10 million turkeys will be sold over the festive period.

He said: "There is no indication of any disruption to the supply of turkeys for Christmas.

"The birds in Yorkshire are being slaughtered and the farm will be thoroughly disinfected."