Scientists at Moredun Research Institute are fighting to control the prevalence of sheep scab across the UK.

Sheep scab, caused by infestation with the ectoparasitic sheep scab mite, is endemic in the UK, causing significant production and welfare problems to the sheep industry, with UK-wide costs estimated to be over £80 million per year, according to researchers.

The Moredun sheep scab strategy will build on the development of a blood test for scab, which can detect the disease before the appearance of clinical signs, meaning it can be found before it has a chance to spread.

Moredun has said it is heading scab control projects using the blood test in England and Northern Ireland, a new project controlling scab on the Western Isles of Lewis & Harris and was also involved in pilots ahead of the proposed All Wales Sheep Scab Eradication Programme.

Dr. Stewart Burgess from Moredun, who is leading the project, said: “The levels of engagement and enthusiasm have been really promising, in some clusters the coordinators have more farmers than can be funded.

“The local vets have responded fantastically with some leading their own clusters, encouraging their clients to get involved.”

In England, the ‘For Flock’s Sake’ project, funded by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), involves 300 farmers working together in clusters across three hotspot regions for scab: The North (coordinated by Cumbrian Farmers Network); the Midlands (coordinated by ADAS) and the South West (coordinated by National Sheep Association).

The project, Moredun said, offers a combination of on-farm advice, best practice training, free blood testing and has filled an important gap in scab control, with an incredible response from the farmers.

In Scotland, the project on Lewis & Harris is funded by the Scottish government, aiming to use the blood test to screen flocks at scanning during February 2023, identifying areas where further support is required to better control sheep scab.

The project in Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Sheep Say Stamp Out Scab) is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and seeks to better understand the extent of the problem, recruiting 100 farmers who are experiencing issues with scab, offering free veterinary advice, blood testing and supported treatments.