Britain's chief vet Debby Reynolds quit unexpectedly last week, just days before a case of avian influenza was discovered at a turkey farm in Norfolk.

Reynolds said she planned to take early retirement after four years as the UK's chief veterinary officer, formulating and delivering government policy on animal health. During that time she dealt with the aftermath of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic, a second outbreak in August this year as well as avian flu and bluetongue.

"This summer's events were a true test of our contingency planning and partnership work. We have built a disease-control strategy that is the best in the world," Reynolds said.

Her deputy Fred Landeg has taken over her duties until a replacement is found, delaying his own retirement plans.

He was immediately faced with another bird flu outbreak. But this was no baptism by fire, said Defra officials, as he had worked to contain the bluetongue virus that hit this summer.