Time is running out to prevent a welfare crisis in the Scottish hills as a result of a backlog of hundreds of thousands of light lambs and cull ewes which cannot be moved due to foot-and-mouth disease restrictions.

NFU Scotland is calling for the urgent introduction of a welfare disposal scheme to tackle the problem and a survey of members this week showed producers are overwhelmingly in favour of such a scheme.

More than 90% of farmers supported a welfare cull scheme for hill lambs and cast (cull) ewes, with the majority stating an acceptable compensation figure for animals entering the scheme would be £20-£25/head.

Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals chief superintendent Mike Flynn told Farmers Weekly there was no question of farmers scaremongering about the scale of the potential welfare disaster as grazing runs out on over-stocked hills.

“This is a genuine problem and in a matter of weeks we will be looking at a serious welfare situation.

“My greatest concern is for the Highlands and Islands where sheep should have gone from the hills by this time of year. They don’t have the infrastructure or the feed supplies and the situation there is very worrying,” he said.

NFUS president Jim McLaren said government agreement to such a scheme was “extremely realistic” and it was a case of “when not if” it would be introduced.

The scheme would be accessed by producers on a voluntary basis, he said, and would also get movement going again in the sheep production chain.

The Union estimates around 200,000 lambs could be eligible, though it says this figure may be much higher.