Islands in crisis as only vet quits

Farmers and residents on the Isles of Scilly, 25 miles off the south-west coast of Cornwall, are warning of serious animal welfare issues following the departure of the islands’ only vet this summer.

The vet decided to quit his practice on St Mary’s because the volume of business made it impossible to make a living. In his absence, the only cover is provided by a vet from Cornwall who visits the islands once a month.

“There are huge welfare concerns,” said Alison Guy, who finishes 40 beef cattle a year at Longstone Farm on St Mary’s.

“I am dreading the day when we have an emergency because I’m not qualified to deal with it. We have another 10 calves due to be shipped to us next week and, after the sea crossing, they often need some attention.”

Mrs Guy fears that, in the absence of a vet, the only way to deal with seriously distressed animals will be to shoot them. With helicopter flights to the island costing over 100 and ferry crossings unreliable, getting a vet out in a crisis would not be viable.

“This is threatening our business.”

The islanders are hoping for government financial aid similar to the Highlands and Islands Veterinary Services Scheme, which subsidises veterinary cover off the west coast of Scotland.

But correspondence with junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw has not been encouraging.

While guaranteeing to provide state veterinary cover for statutory services such as TB and brucellosis testing, Mr Bradshaw says private cover is “essentially a matter for market forces”. Despite promising to monitor the situation, he says: “Responsibility falls to the animal owners to ensure their animals have appropriate care.”

But the islanders say this is unrealistic. Figures presented by the previous vet estimate the extra costs for a mainland practice to provide cover to the islands at 12,500.

This could not be recouped from the island community, which provides enough business for only one-third of a vet.

A concerted letter-writing campaign was mounted in July and August, with more than 200 letters sent to DEFRA secretary David Miliband pleading for help.

 “So far we’ve not even had an acknowledgement,” said campaign organiser and smallholder Stephen Manning.