Importing livestock from bluetongue infected areas of Europe presents a massive risk to domestic animal health and should only be undertaken with extreme caution, farmers have been told.

The warning came after the first cases of the disease this summer were confirmed by DEFRA in imported rams on farms near Lewes, East Sussex, and Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

The infected rams, from the same premises within a bluetongue restricted zone in central France, were discovered after post-import testing carried out by DEFRA on all bluetongue susceptible animals arriving from Europe.

Both imported sheep are Southdown rams from Isabelle Thomas’s flock at Le Châtelet, in the Massif Central, Farmers Weekly can reveal.

Pedigree breeders

The rams were imported by pedigree breeders for use in their own flocks vaccinated earlier this summer.

The buyers of the infected sheep discovered at East Sussex were Wakeham-Dawson and Harmer, who run the Ridings flock at Offham.

The second sheep was purchased by Daniel Bunting, for his Golden Valley flock in Hertfordshire.

Bluetongue tests were carried out before the animals left France.

Risks

Deputy chief veterinary officer, Alick Simmons, said: “These cases emphasise the need for farmers to be aware of the risks of importing animals from within restricted zones.”

Justin Harmer, spokesman for the partnership which owns the Ridings flock, said he believed the ram had been vaccinated in July.

Although the tup was likely to be infertile this season, it would be retained to see if its fertility improved.

Peter Morris, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said the two cases highlighted the risk of importing livestock. “While this is a perfectly legitimate movement of stock it is a worrying development,” he said.

The animals could have infected local midges which could in turn infect domestic livestock. “Anyone in the protection zone without vaccinated stock should be extremely nervous now of any risk of infection and ensure livestock are vaccinated.”