5 January 2001

BEST projects three-year plan now paying off

A £900,000 scheme to

revitalise hill farming in the

Trough of Bowland, Lancs, is

nearing completion.

Jeremy Hunt visited one of

the farms involved

A RAFT of projects, ranging from sheep tick control and heather management to the construction of new livestock sheds, are bringing significant benefits to hill farmers in the Trough of Bowland.

They have been financed through the Bowland Environmental Strategy project which has provided £900,000 for a three-year plan of farm and environmental improvements.

Ten farms, all owned by North West Water, have been involved in the scheme. The water company has invested £275,000 with the rest met by MAFF and Euro 5b with extra funding from the estates agricultural and sporting tenants as well as English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Malcolm Handley, who runs 900 Swaledale ewes at Croasdale House Farm, near Slaidburn, says that despite the range of interests involved in the project there is now a far better dialogue between farmers, the landlord and environmental groups.

"It has created a much better atmosphere in which to run our farm business," he says.

The 940ha (2256-acre) Croasdale House Farm, which has about 83ha (200 acres) of in-bye, has a long history of sheep tick problems. When Mr Handley took over the farm 16 years ago the previous tenant had been losing about 100 lambs a year from blood poisoning caused by tick pyaemia.

Controlling numbers of sheep ticks to cut incidence of louping-ill virus and associated tick pyaemia was a priority of the BEST project.

Blood testing before starting the BEST-funded treatment programme showed that individual flocks on the estate – there are 8600 ewes in total – had an average level of louping-ill infection of 8%.

The tick control programme was devised by the Moredun Institute at Penicuik, near Edinburgh, and has been monitored by vets working within the Bowland project.

Since it was introduced the 8% infection level has been reduced to 3.5%. Many flocks are now totally clear of ticks.

Mr Handley says: "Our main problem at Croasdale House Farm was tick pyaemia. Every ewe produced a positive test result to louping-ill virus which meant we had 100% natural immunity within the flock. Lambs born on the fell were gaining immunity through the ewes colostrum and if they were bitten by ticks during the first eight weeks of life they could cope with the virus.

"But our twin-born lambs reared on the in-bye ground were unlikely to get bitten until they were moved onto the fell in the autumn. By that stage they would have lost the immunity from the ewes colostrum. That is when we suffered our highest lamb losses through tick pyaemia."

A vaccination and pour-on programme was introduced to cut tick numbers and tackle the louping-ill. The spin-off would be fewer lambs lost through tick pyaemia.

The programme initially cut lamb losses to about 60 a year at Croasdale House Farm but the dramatic impact of treatment has now reduced that number to under five.

"All lambs are vaccinated against louping-ill at clipping time in June and replacement gimmer lambs receive a second jab in autumn. We are also using pour-on treatments up to six times a year to kill ticks on ewes and lambs.

"We could not have afforded to undertake tick eradication on this scale without the BEST funding," says Mr Handley. Louping-ill vaccine costs about £3.50 a dose.

There is a better dialogue between farmers, the landlord and environmental groups, says Malcolm Handley.

BOWLANDPROJECT

&#8226 Tick control programme.

&#8226 Building grants available.

&#8226 Heather regeneration.