Bringing clusters of farmers together in hot spot areas is delivering a coordinated response to sheep scab result in the UK.

An ongoing trial, developed under the aegis of the Rural Development Programme of England (RDPE), got underway just over a year ago.

The campaign has been entitled: ‘For Flock’s Sake, Let’s Stop Scab Together’.

Its objective is to demonstrate the effectiveness of a community-led approach to improve the control of sheep scab in three hotspot areas of England.

Within each hotspot, there are a number of ‘clusters’ of farms that share common boundaries or use the same common grazing, where the aim is to foster cooperation in the control of scab.

Sheep scab campaign

Running over two years, the project offers up to 300 participating farmers a unique combination of on-farm advice, best practice training, and free blood testing.

The unique scab diagnostic test at the very heart of the project was recently developed by scientists at the Moredun Research Institute in Scotland.

The RDPE-funded project also covers the costs of visits by participating farmers’ local veterinary surgeon and two sets of blood tests. Also included is a face-to-face advisory visit by the vet for each farm to discuss scab control and biosecurity.

The scab hot spot areas identified were in the north west, the midlands and the south west of England.

National Sheep Association

A recent sheep scab webinar, hosted by the National Sheep Association (NSA), provided those involved with the three sets of farm clusters to report on the impact made by the project since its launch.

All confirmed the willingness of most farmers to take part. In some areas the project has been oversubscribed many times over.

There was also unanimous agreement that the new blood test works well under commercial farming conditions.

In many cases, scab had been identified on units where the farmers in question had firmly believed they did not have a problem in the first place.

Scab control

In terms of scab control, the project is pointing to the benefits of effectively dipping sheep and the need for farmers to work together with a common purpose.

The Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) group chairman, Kevin Harrison, took part in the general debate during the webinar. He confirmed that the new testing and control pilot project is working in England.

"The sheep industry has shown that it is willing to invest its own resources in tackling the problem of sheep scab.

"But we need more funding and support from government to get us further down the road.”

Harrison said the introduction of relevant legislation by government is a critical step in the future development of an effective scab eradication campaign.