A three-year programme designed to control sheep scab in Northern Ireland has been launched this week.

However, the man driving the project – Co. Antrim veterinarian Paul Crawford – believes that the longer term direction of travel is the complete eradication of the disease across the island of Ireland.

“And this is possible if those with an interest in really getting to grips with this issue come together and work on a coordinated basis,” he explained.

“And there is a strong track record of this approach to animal health working on the island of Ireland.

“The initial steps to eradicate Bovine Viral Diarrhoea [BVD] in calves were taken in the Republic of Ireland with the north then following suit.

“This time around, Northern Ireland is taking the lead, where sheep scab is concerned.”

Sheep scab programme

Courtesy of the £220,000 project, launched this week, members of the Northern Ireland Sheep Scab Group have joined forces with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, (AFBI), Animal Health and Welfare NI and the Moredun Research Institute.

The initiative will see farmers and vets work to tackle the significant challenge that is sheep scab.

The new programme, which will get underway in July this year, consists of five focal points, all of which will be used to inform future research.

These include farmer meetings, vet meetings, on-farm visits, plus relevant data collection and analysis.

Despite currently being a notifiable disease in Northern Ireland, very little research has historically been undertaken into how it is spread and more importantly, how it can be eradicated.

Chairman of the Northern Ireland Sheep Scab Group, Paul Crawford hopes the project will lay the foundations for Northern Ireland’s first sheep scab eradication-programme.

‘‘Northern Ireland has been lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom in both research and piloting control strategies for decades,” he said.

“We hope this project will act as a catalyst for change and eventually lead to the creation of a bespoke eradication plan. But in order to get to that stage, we first have to obtain relevant data.

“This will give us a clearer picture of what is happening on farms in terms of prevalence, spread and attitudes towards the disease, as well as what needs to change in terms of communication and education concerning all parties in order to defeat sheep scab for good,” he added.

There is already a reliable blood test available which can test for the disease

 “Scientists are also working hard to develop a vaccine,” Crawford continued.

“With the combined efforts of scientists, farmers, vets and other industry professionals, I am sure that we will one day be able to eradicate sheep scab, and this project is the first step towards achieving that status.’’