Ticks challenge Cumbria fell sheep

Until 10 years ago Martin Mawson of High Side Farm, Bassenthwaite, had never had a tick problem on his farm.

But now his fell land is so heavily infested that in some years he has lost 20% of his lamb crop.

His fell grazing is now within an Environmentally Sensitive Area and two years ago he signed up to join the Wildlife Enhancement Scheme (WES).

Complying with environmental targets of both schemes has meant reducing the fell stock from 700 to 550 Swaledale ewes.

“My parents came here in 1963 and never had ticks on the farm. But 10 years ago things suddenly changed.

We turned ewes and lambs back to the fell as we always had done in May, but when we went back to gather for clipping six weeks later we got a real shock.

“Apart from lambs that had already died in that six-week period, many were lame and never thrived.

It was the start of our tick problem,” recalls Mr Mawson.

At a demonstration on the farm, organised by Forward Farming, he said ticks had now become a major management issue and prevented him turning ewes and lambs back to the fell until after clipping time in June.

“Lambs are more at risk that older sheep, but anything can get bitten and infected.

We blood-tested some ewes to see whether the tick bites were causing louping ill and, if they had, we could have vaccinated.

“But blood samples didn’t confirm louping ill, which means we’re dealing with tick pyaemia and that’s something we can’t vaccinate against.

All we can do is manage the flock as best we can and rely on pour-ons, which have had varied success in the past.”