A popular animal sanctuary has been forced to close early for the winter due to concerns over bird flu cases in Essex.

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary, in Brentwood, will no longer be accepting visitors after this weekend and says it has placed all birds inside following confirmation of a second bird flu case in the county.

Rochford Council is one of a number of authorities investigating the newest case in North Fambridge.

Nearly 1,000 homes and businesses are being inspected to ensure there is no outbreak of the disease, but bosses insist this is just a precautionary measure.

It comes after another case of bird flu was reported in Tendring earlier this month.

Hopefield announced it was closing early for winter in a statement on its website.

It read: “We’ve had to make the difficult decision to close the sanctuary for winter earlier than expected – our last day of being open will be Sunday 28th November.

“Due to avian flu, all the birds are now indoors, and the areas where the birds can’t be moved have been cordoned off, blocking large sections of the sanctuary.

“With the change in weather, our field walkway will be off limits soon too. We’ve also had to close Max’s Café at weekends, so we feel that now is the right time.

“Anyone who has already booked a visit after our closure date will be contacted today, and their booking will be refunded.”

Volunteers will be selling items on-site on Sunday to help raise funds for the sanctuary over the coming winter.

Supporters are asked to come along on the final day before closing to show their support.

The statement added: “We apologise to anyone who was looking to plan a visit later on in the year, but we’d like to thank you all for visiting us this season and helping us generate funds to care for the 500 animals at the sanctuary.

“We look forward to seeing you all again when we re-open at the end of March.”