Liver fluke epidemics are being forcecast by experts

Claire Tuck, lab scientist  carries out labaratory studies on fluke worm at the SAC Veterinary Disease Surveillance centre, St Boswells.
Claire Tuck, lab scientist carries out labaratory studies on fluke worm at the SAC Veterinary Disease Surveillance centre, St Boswells.

Liver fluke has had a “devastating” impact on sheep flocks in the Borders and north Northumberland over the last six months.

Not only does the disease significantly reduce the performance of livestock, at a huge cost to farmers, but at abattoirs a growing numbers of livers from cattle and sheep are now being rejected from the food chain because of fluke damage. That is removing value from the livestock sector.

NFUS vice-president and Borders farmer Rob Livesey said: “Liver fluke has had a devastating affect on sheep flocks and has caused major problems with cattle, too. Death and ill thrift has been widespread, made worse by the poor nutritional value of fodder made last year.

“Liver fluke is causing a huge degree of loss to the livestock sector – both at abattoirs and on farm – and is posing a massive welfare and production challenge for our farmers. It is in everyone’s interests that we tackle the issue of fluke head on.”

Scientists last week warned the problem could get worse. Researchers at Scotland’s Rural College and York University combined disease forecasting techniques with climate change projections and concluded that by 2020 “serious liver fluke epidemics” could be the norm.Veterinary investigation officer at SAC’s Disease Surveillance Centre at St Boswells, Dr Elspeth Scott said more cases of fluke had been brought in this year, but also that farmers are now better at recognising what had traditionally been a west coast disease. “Conditions have been absolutely ideal for fluke and the impression is there is more of it out there,” she said.

Figures for the first quarter of this year showed Scotland had the highest incidence of fluke in the UK and farmers are being urged to tackle the threat of fluke this spring.