Northern Ireland Sheep Scab Project scoops prestigious award

Northern Ireland Sheep Scab Project scoops prestigious award

The Northern Ireland Sheep Scab project  has won the ‘Best Agri Impact’ category at the Farming Life Awards 2023.

The novel scheme’s endeavours to re-write the narrative around scab, address myths and provide locally relevant scab management tools have laid the foundations for a national control plan for scab, the likes of which has never been seen before in Northern Ireland.

Award judges were impressed by the project’s legacy, noting, ‘not only has [the project] had a positive impact on those who took part, but has also created a strong knowledge repository for addressing similar challenges in the future.” The award was presented during a prestigious ceremony at The Crown Plaza Hotel, Belfast on Wednesday 11th October 2024.

Sheep scab, caused by the highly infectious Psoroptes ovis mite, causes itching and wool loss, which progresses to involve most of the sheep’s body.  Left untreated, they become so fixated on scratching to relieve the itch, that they don’t eat enough, dying from starvation or exposure; they won’t get better on their own.

Sheep farmers recognised scab was present in almost every corner of Northern Ireland (NI), creating a huge welfare problem for sheep and shepherds, but no proactive action was being undertaken by DAERA to stamp out the notifiable disease. This, and crucially, the conviction among farmers that there was a problem they needed help investigating, provided the keys to unlocking £220000 worth of funding for a 1-year research and action programme investigating scab in NI.

Veterinarian and NI Scab group co-ordinator Paul Crawford said, “I am delighted that this novel scheme and the hard work of all those involved, from the farmers and vets to the project team, has been recognised. Most importantly, however, is the fact it has put sheep welfare front and centre and laid the foundations for what we hope will become a project which stamps out sheep scab for good. However, more work needs to be undertaken to achieve this momentous task. The initial project is now out of money, and we need DAERA to give farmers the tools they need to safeguard the welfare of sheep and shepherds for decades to come by getting sheep scab under control.”