The Orkney islands have been officially declared free of Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) by the Scottish Government. Farmers have welcomed the news which comes two years after the last BVD-infected animal was removed from the islands.

Orkney Livestock Association chairman, David Scarth, from Twatt Farm, said: “The achievement of BVD Clear status is the result of a joint effort over more than two decades, not only by the cattle farmers and vets, but all involved in the Orkney cattle industry, for which we are very grateful”.

“The letter we recently received from the Scottish Government confirming Orkney has been clear of BVD for two years, included praise for OLA's successful BVD control in Orkney, which ‘has served as a model for the rest of Scotland’s cattle keepers'.

“Orkney is proud to give assurance to our cattle buying customers, who travel across the Pentland Firth, that every beast on offer is definitely free of BVD.”

“Of course, we can’t be complacent – in the past we’ve learnt how easy it is to unintentionally re-introduce BVD, so strict bio-security and monitoring of any cattle brought into Orkney will continue.”

Read more: Cattle exports to the Republic of Ireland to meet BVD conditions from 2022

Over 20 years ago, a small group of Orkney farmers, along with a local vet and the Scottish Agricultural College veterinary laboratory in Thurso, designed a scheme to eradicate BVD from the islands.

By adapting the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS), they created a scheme which was workable within Orkney cattle systems.

The OLA, with the target of eradicating BVD, was launched February 1, 2001, with a financial kickstart of £500,000 from Orkney Islands Council to cover laboratory costs of initial blood tests.

In the first two years of the OLA scheme, a total of 378 PI cattle were identified and removed, significantly reducing the cycle of infection.

By spring 2007, well over 80% of Orkney herds had achieved BVD Accredited Status (earned after two consecutive clear annual blood test screens). Herd health improvement resulted in Orkney farmers rearing more and bigger calves from the same number of cows.

Six years into the scheme, figures from the Orkney SAC office showed profits for some farms had increased by up to 30% since 2001. While on average herds were weaning between three and four extra calves a year – resulting in a total of 1500 to 2000 additional head of cattle per annum for the Orkney economy.

Today, Orkney has 550 cattle farmers who keep 28,000 breeding cows on 247,000 acres (100,000 has), representing the highest density of beef cattle in Europe. In addition, the 16 dairy herds make Orkney the largest dairy field north of Stirling.