A farmer is defying voluntary health initiatives for livestock that help keep infections at bay, placing at risk Shetland’s hard-earned status as a disease-free haven for sheep and cattle.
North Mainland producer Bryden Nicolson, of Graven, has turned his back on the animal health schemes which have given the isles a clean bill of health for over 20 years.
The schemes involve veterinary inspections being carried out on livestock coming off the ferry before being taken to their holdings, with subsequent regular screening operations taking place on the farm or croft.
The diligent measures have successfully prevented diseases such as bluetongue or BVD (bovine viral diarrhoea) from getting a grip in the isles, and have been held up as examples of good practice to the rest of the country and beyond.
Mr Nicolson has refused vets access to animals he is bringing into the isles in protest over laws governing the transportation of animals and the fact that he is not allowed to put sheep on his own trailer on the boat.
The council’s environmental health department said a producer had indicated they did not want their imported sheep to be tested, and that they would deny their animals the opportunity of annual testing.
The tests would protect the animals against enzootic abortions, the chronic disease MV and Caseous Lymphadenitis (CLA), which can have a devastating impact on sheep and goats.
Head of environmental health Maggie Dunne said local producers had signed up to the schemes which had given Shetland its much-praised disease-free status.
“We’ve been attempting to agree a way forward with a particular producer, and they made a decision they don’t want to remain in the schemes.
“It is not, in any way, an indication that the disease status of Shetland has changed, it’s just that they don’t want to co-operate with the scheme any more. The reasons they have given do not relate to the animal health schemes.
“It’s sad we haven’t got 100 per cent coverage. We’ve implemented increased screening around the particular holding and we’re confident, in doing that, that we are able to still declare our stock have disease-free status in every other holding in Shetland.”
She said any spread of disease would be “catastrophic” for producers, costing them “a huge amount of money”.
“It could spread very rapidly in Shetland because animals are in close contact with one another.”
In the meantime, Ms Dunne said the door was being left open for the producer to return to the health initiative.
“We have indicated that if at any time they would like to re-enter the schemes we would welcome them. There is no way we would turn them away.”
She said the schemes had helped achieve “significant benefits” for the isles, adding it was stringent import controls which helped negate the need for a compulsory bluetongue vaccination in Shetland when a national campaign to combat the virus started in 2008.
“We’ve been building our health status for many years, and there is still a huge amount of support for the schemes within the industry. It means people have the confidence when they are buying livestock in Shetland. People have been putting in a lot of effort to comply. Some of the schemes have been running for over 20 years.”
Meanwhile chairman of Shetland Livestock Marketing Group Ronnie Eunson said livestock belonging to any individual who strayed from the health schemes would not be welcome at the co-operative’s marts.
(Continued on page three) (Continued from front page) He pointed out that Shetland was the envy of producers in other parts of the country and abroad.
“We wouldn’t be looking to encourage this producer to attend any sales to sell their stock through our facility for fear of any contamination,” he said.
“Reading literature associated with diseases in Europe you soon begin to realise how absolutely unique Shetland is in European terms.
“There is nowhere else that has the same status in terms of diseases that have been eradicated and are going through the eradication process.
“A lot of folk have sacrificed a lot over the years to achieve a health status in Shetland that is pre-eminent in Europe.”
Speaking to The Shetland Times Mr Nicolson denied making the move at all, and said he had never broken any link with the health schemes.
“I have more accreditation to my name than anyone else. I have the healthiest flocks in Shetland, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Mr Nicolson has been no stranger to controversy over the years.
In 2001 he fell foul of the agricultural industry when he brought up a Suffolk ram during the foot and mouth epidemic, against the advice of the NFU.
Three years later he resigned as junior vice-president of the farmers union, rather than let a sheep he imported be blood tested for Shetland-free diseases.
Earlier this year he barred government and council representatives from land he had rented to oil giant Total to build its £500m gas plant.
A ceremony to mark the start of the Laggan-Tormore gas development had to move because of his protest made over a £220,000 compensation claim for sheep that had been culled five years ago.