CROFTING AND farming life on the Isle of Skye could be under threat without a succession plan in place to recruit vets on the island.

Currently the island has three veterinary businesses operating with one permanent vet in each, but relies on a selection of locums and has struggled to recruit new permanent vets to the area.

Farmers and crofters on the island have raised concerns that without new vets coming in to maintain the health of their livestock, it could compromise on animal welfare and drive a reduction in livestock numbers.

Crofter Sam Brooke from Fiskavaig told The Scottish Farmer that rural vets underpin the very existence of crofting communities.

“Friendly advice to the beginner crofter, difficult lambings, c-section calving, animal welfare guidance and support, dispensing medication, disease management, statutory testing… a small fraction of the services a rural vet provides at all times of the day and night and in all conditions,” he explained. “It is an invaluable service that is an integral part of the crofting fabric and its diminution in a rural community such as the Isle of Skye could have a devastating effect on what is already a threatened way of life.”

He went on to point out that at a time when the environmental credentials of both the landscape and the animals it produces are under scrutiny, every effort should be made at a policy level to ensure a healthy provision of rural vets to tick so many 'green' boxes.

“A reduction in remote rural vet numbers could lead to a reduction in the number of ruminants in the Scottish uplands, an increase in rank vegetation and consequent loss of carbon sequestration, a despoilation of the scenic amenity valued so highly by visitor and resident alike and a decrease in the production of the highly prized local provenance and low miles food. To lose a single vet on the Isle of Skye without replacement is a genuine threat to the viability of so much more than just animals and crofters.”

Crofter Calum Graham Mugeary, from Glenmore, echoed Sam’s concerns: “I rely on the vet to treat and advise me on all animals that are present on the croft from the collie to bull. The rural vet is the first level in food safety often aware of issues as simple as a fluke or scab before it becomes a problem, highlighting seasonal challenges through their newsletter.

“During the calving and lambing season it is vital that experienced and willing vets attend when required to deliver a calf or lamb – without this service going forward I fear this could be a huge welfare issue for livestock and farmers and crofters affecting their wellbeing.”

Read more: Scotland plans a shake up of field animal vet services

One of the three veterinary services operating in Skye is O’Connor Pierce Veterinary Services. John and Liz O’Connor explained that the whole profession is experiencing issues with succession.

“It is very difficult to sell a practice as this is especially true in the Highlands and Islands and is leaving some vets in a difficult situation when it comes to retirement time,” they said.

“We now have more vet schools producing more vets, but there seem to be fewer and fewer vets available, especially in small mixed practices.

“There has to be a way in which the selection process changes in order to provide us and the animals under our care with good veterinary care.”

Crofter Peter Martin Junior who crofts full time in Cuidrach and Glenhinnisdale in the north of the island, warned of bleak choices ahead for farmers who can’t access a vet: “It's deeply concerning that much of Skye's crofting and farming community could find itself without access to a large animal vets. This could cause unnecessary dispatching of livestock which could otherwise be treated, impacting on farmers and crofter financial and mental health.”

Helen and Billy Macrae of Braebost Farms Ltd, near Edinbane, look after 100 beef sucklers and 500 black faced ewes and are increasingly concerned about the future health of their stock.

“Without the support of practicing veterinary surgeons in the area this would obviously cause difficulties to our business and possibly pose animal welfare issues should access to veterinary care be limited.”