Crofters from the Outer Hebrides keen to control livestock disease on their island, have visited Shetland to learn about a scheme targeting diseases including sheep scab.

Lewis and Harris crofters visited the Shetland Animal Health Scheme with support from scientists at The James Hutton Institute and Moredun Research Institute, as part of a collaborative project with the Scottish Government’s Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease Outbreaks (EPIC).

The scheme was set up to help manage biosecurity around imported livestock to protect animal health on the island. This includes keeping it free of sheep scab, one of the most contagious endemic diseases affecting UK sheep.

The Scottish Farmer: Temporary dipping facilities set up on the Isle of Lewis last yearTemporary dipping facilities set up on the Isle of Lewis last year

The scheme includes veterinary surveillance and testing of all animals coming onto the island and community sheep dipping facilities. It is hoped that these protocols could be adopted on Lewis and Harris, which is home to an estimate of up to 35,000 sheep.

The disease affects about 10-15% of farms in the UK, with 8000 to 10,000 outbreaks a year.

“Sheep scab hasn’t gone away, we’re seeing it occurring throughout Scotland and tackling it is very much about working together, which is why this visit is so important,” says Dr Claire Hardy, a Hutton researcher who led the visit.

“The enthusiasm and passion of the Shetland stakeholders to control disease on their Island was clear to see. The positive vibe and offers of collaboration for the future will help the Lewis and Harris islanders to build on current sheep scab interventions and move forward on disease control for Lewis and Harris.”

Lewis and Harris Sheep Producers Association chair, Donald MacKinnon said: “We were very impressed with the set up on Shetland. The crofters and farmers we met take maintaining their sheep health status extremely seriously.

“Getting on top of sheep scab and other diseases

has obvious benefits for welfare and profitability of flocks.

“We left Shetland buzzing with ideas that we could take home and try out. One of our big challenges, that Shetland doesn’t have, is hoggs returning from wintering on the mainland. With hoggs due to come home soon, we will be working quickly to explore options for tackling the issue.”

Shetland Island Council veterinary advisor Hilary Burgess said: “We very much hope that this will be the beginning of more joint working and co-operation on sheep scab control between farmers and crofters on Shetland, and Lewis and Harris,” she said, “and would very much welcome farmers and crofters from

other islands to get involved. We are all working with the same aim to control sheep scab in our flocks and isles, and to produce quality clean sheep – so it makes sense to work together to get the best results.”

The visit follows workshops held with crofters by the Hutton and Moredun institutes about sheep scab. It was hosted by Shetland Island Council and included meetings with the Shetland Animal Health Committee and local farmers and crofters, as well as a visit to the testing facilities at Lerwick quayside and the community dipping facility.