Scotland has joined the bluetongue protection zone after the roll-out of a compulsory vaccination programme began.

Livestock farmers across the country will be legally obliged to vaccinate stock by 30 April next year.

Failure to protect animals against the disease could result in a six-month prison sentence or a £5000 fine.

The Scottish government has paid half the £2.6m costs of producing about 12m doses of vaccine to help farmers in the first year of the programme.

Farmers will pay 22p per dose, less than half the price paid by farmers in England and Wales for the same vaccine, produced by Merial.

Environment secretary Richard Lochhead said Scotland had adopted a “unique approach within Europe” to the threat of bluetongue.

“Working directly with the industry, we agreed that the best way to protect Scotland’s livestock sector from this disease was to adopt a compulsory mass vaccination programme,” he said.

“It is now the responsibility of everyone in the industry to play their part in vaccinating all susceptible animals before the deadline of 30 April, 2009.”