A SUCCESSFUL project looking at control of Sheep Scab in England is paving the way for a similar approach in Scotland.

Sheep Scab costs the UK anywhere between £80 and £200million a year and this year there were around 10,000 cases recorded.

With only two types of drugs being used to treat the parasitic disease, there is growing concerns over resistance.

“A blood test developed by the Moredun picks up the disease at a sub clinical level and if detected early enough can allow intervention before the disease spreads,” said Stewart Burgess from the Moredun Institute. “We have to use the test intelligently and in a coordinated way to guide treatments when they are required, so not to over use those laudable treatments we have.”

In January 2021, funding of £430,000 was awarded by Defra to demonstrate the effectiveness of a community led approach to improve the control of Sheep Scab over the course of a two-year project.

The project focused on three hotspot areas in England, where Scab is highly prevalent: the South West; the Midlands and the North West.

Within each of the three hotspots, there are a number of ‘clusters’ of farms that either share common boundaries or use the same common grazing, with the aim within each cluster being to foster cooperation in the control of scab.

There are 300 farmers participating – however many more subscribed to take part – who have signed up to a unique combination of on-farm advice, best practice training and free blood testing. This includes the costs of visits by their local vet to allow two sets of blood samples for ELISA testing, plus a face-to-face advisory visit by the vet for each farm to discuss scab control and biosecurity.

Scientists at the Moredun Institute said that taking part was a win-win situation for farmers and that it has filled an important gap in Sheep Scab control.

Commenting, Dr Stewart Burgess, who leads the project alongside Prof Richard Wall and Lesley Stubbings, said: “The levels of engagement and enthusiasm have been really promising and in some clusters the coordinators have more farmers than can be funded under current budgets. The local vets have responded fantastically to the project, in many cases they are leading their own clusters of farmers and have been instrumental in encouraging their clients to get involved. By the end of November 2021, we had already processed over 200 sets of blood testing with results reported back to the coordinators and vets.

“Discussions regarding coordination of treatments are now taking place in many areas, with farmers being encouraged to treat with an organophosphate plunge dip where scab has been diagnosed and where it is possible to do so."

The ELISA blood test results for each farm are carefully analysed by the farmer’s vet in relation to the scab-history of the farm in question and its neighbours, before advice is given about whether treatment, or follow up monitoring and inspection, are required.

“The key aspects of this approach are communication, cooperation and co-ordination within clusters,” added Prof. Richard Wall, whose work on sheep scab underpins the hotspot approach. “With such a high number of farmers wanting to take part we are very hopeful that at the end of the current project we will have a legacy of experience that can be used in other parts of the country.”

Dr Burgess confirmed that talks are underway with the Scottish Government to carry out a similar project in Scotland and that it would almost certainly be on one of the islands where incidence of scab is more prevalent.