Scientists at Moredun are leading the fight for the control of sheep scab across all four nations of 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 >£80 million per year.
Treatment relies on organophosphate (OP) plunge dips and macrocyclic lactone (ML) injectables. However, as populations of scab mites resistant to the MLs have been confirmed in the UK, it’s imperative that we only use these compounds when needed and make a concerted effort to bring scab under control.
The projects build on the development of a blood test for scab, which can detect the disease before the appearance of clinical signs, meaning we can find scab before it has a chance to spread, targeting treatments to limit further development of resistance.
Moredun are leading 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 were also involved in pilots ahead of the proposed All Wales Sheep Scab Eradication Programme. In England the ‘For Flock’s Sake’ project, funded by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), involves 300 farmers working together in clusters (either as contiguous properties or using common grazing) 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 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.
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”.
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.
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.