Investigations launched into Fetlar couple’s care of livestock

A couple in Fetlar have staunchly defended their care of livestock  after investigations were launched into their animal husbandry.

Neil and Juliet Bellis are at the centre of allegations concerning their activities following the deaths of a number of sheep on their property.

The Scottish government is looking into the incidents on the 844-acre holding of Fetlar Farm, which is home to more than 800 sheep, as well as cattle and pigs.

Shetland Islands Council’s environmental health department has also been carrying out its own investigation, the outcome of which has been delayed because of the ongoing problems surrounding coronavirus.

The couple insist they have acted appropriately since becoming concerned in January about the number of fallen stock on their property.

They had been concerned that livestock had suffered pneumonia following a particularly wet winter.

They claim that concerns raised were dealt with by the end of March, and that the matter cannot be “signed off” because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

The couple’s current stockman has taken videos which the Bellises claim show the healthy conditions of their animals.

But The Shetland Times has learned the case is still ongoing, and the outcome depends on a follow-up inspection.

Mr and Mrs Bellis say their property was also inspected by the SSPCA in January following a complaint.

But they claim the SSPCA inspector told them he could “find nothing wrong” and that the complaint was “unjustified”.

The SSPCA has declined to comment, insisting the local authority “is leading in the investigation”.

A statement from the couple said: “All of the concerns raised by the vet and the environmental health officer had been completed by the end of March, seven weeks ago.

“We are half way through calving and lambing has nearly finished.

“Unfortunately, due to lockdown, the environmental health officer has not been able to visit to inspect the progress made, but both we and the stockmen have kept him informed of progress with photographic and video evidence.

“He has confirmed that his and the vet’s requirements have been satisfied. The matter can not be formally ‘signed off’ until they have made their further inspection which can not yet take place due to the lockdown.”

It also stated: “The environmental health department visited on 28th February 2020 and, again, with a vet working for the Animal and Plant Agency on 4th and 5th March 2020.

“The first visit raised concerns about the disposal of fallen stock – which were immediately addressed.

“The second was in connection with some animal welfare concerns about which the vet gave detailed and practical guidance as to how these issues could be addressed.”

The statement added concerns about fallen stock were being addressed prior to the recruitment of a new stockman in early March. Another stockman, or manager, was hired on a temporary contract.

“Our two new stockmen have worked very hard firstly to ensure that all of the concerns raised by environmental health and the vet have been fully dealt with, and secondly to improve the farm generally.”

Head of the council’s environmental health department David Robertson said enquires were being carried out.

“I can confirm that since it first came to light we have been investigating it,” he said.

“We can’t say very much otherwise it would prejudice the investigation.”

In an official comment from Shetland Islands Council, Mr Robertson states: “We can confirm that the council is currently investigating animal welfare issues on Fetlar.

“At this time however the council is not in a position to disclose any further details in relation to this investigation.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish government said it was committed to the “highest possible standards of animal welfare”.

In an unattributed statement it added: “We are aware that animal and plant health agency staff have, alongside the local authority, been investigating allegations of animal cruelty on the island of Fetlar.

“It would not be appropriate to comment further while investigations are ongoing.”

Community representatives have declined to comment.

Chairman of the community council James Rendall said he would not say anything until the investigation was finished.

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