- EIP-AGRI Projects
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Hill Sheep Health North project was set up to develop a participatory approach for hill sheep farmers in the UK to address a hill sheep disease of particular concern – liver fluke infection or fasciolosis. Through the innovative participatory method, farmers took part in finding the solutions to the problems associated with the disease. By combining the knowledge and expertise of farmers with that of veterinarians and specialists, and using appropriate technology, effective solutions to the disease were put into practice and evaluated.
In 2012 in the UK, liver fluke disease was a particular concern for hill sheep farmers. This is due to the increasing incidence of resistance to one of the main chemicals (Triclabendazole) which is used to control liver fluke, and also due to wetter summers in previous years leading to increases in sheep deaths due to liver fluke disease.
At the same time, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society formed a Farmer Scientist Network (FSN), which brought together farmers and academics to find new ways in which science and technology could find sustainable solutions and support innovation in agriculture. Participants agreed that farmers had a wealth of knowledge about their farm, the location and geography, livestock and husbandry practices, and prevalent diseases, so their involvement in the analysis of animal disease problems, and the design, implementation and evaluation of disease control programmes and policies was viewed as very important and provided an opportunity for knowledge exchange.
So this is how Hill Sheep Health North project came about. The aim of the project was to develop an innovative participatory approach for hill sheep farmers in Cumbria and Yorkshire. Combining the knowledge and expertise of farmers with that of veterinarians and specialists, and using appropriate technology, the project wanted to identify effective solutions which could be put into practice and evaluated. The Operational Group was formed with key partners including The Farmer Network (Cumbria and Yorkshire Dales), Royal Veterinary College, Evidence Group, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Farmers Scientist Network, and the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.
Epidemiology is the study of why and where disease occurs and so participatory epidemiology involves multi-actor, collective analysis to better understand disease priorities, methods of management and solutions for control. The Operational Group partners believed this approach would therefore be particularly valuable in traditional extensive farming systems on marginal lands that face many challenges such as terrain, climate and disease.
15 farmers from the Cumbria farmer group and 12 farmers from the Yorkshire Dales Farmer Group actively participated in the project. “The knowledge transfer between farms is invaluable… science and knowledge from farmers is a good thing to base our management practices on.” – member of Cumbria/Yorkshire Dales farmer group.
The project ran from November 2017 to May 2021. Activities included the development, provision, training and then use of a mobile phone application for data collection. This could be used by farmers regardless of mobile signal strength to store animal health and treatment data. The project also analysed the data collected via the app, which was translated into useful information for farmers by key experts. The project held small group farmer discussion meetings, approximately every six months, in both areas, in person and later virtually (Zoom) to enable co-operative learning experiences. Additional meetings and workshops that expanded on areas of interest identified by the farmers’ groups, brought in external specialists, or demonstrated relevant techniques. Diagnostic tests (including FECRT- faecal egg count reduction test, Coproantigen and ELISA antibody tests) were carried out and made available to the farmers free of charge, to promote strategic use of flukicides. Other data collection took place such as a baseline questionnaire; semi-structured interviews investigating the farmer experience. Furthermore, knowledge exchange materials and a website were created.
Some of the ideas developed thanks to the working groups are solutions such as:
Sentinel surveillance to guide strategic use of flukicides
Another member of Cumbria/Yorkshire Dales farmer group from the project “Being able to dung sample sheep at different times … backs up what you are doing a bit and helps you understand things more and know that you are giving things when you should be giving them …. not giving drugs unnecessarily.”
This project has demonstrated how bringing hill sheep farmers from across Cumbria and Yorkshire together in a participatory approach has increased their understanding of a complex disease and enabled them to make informed decisions that have protected the health and welfare of their sheep, reducing the potential for development of resistance to a limited number of chemicals available for the treatment of liver fluke. This has led to significant cost savings in time, labour and medicines.
Partners are currently discussing how the approach could be adapted to address other key disease problems that are priorities for farmers and of national interest, such as anthelmintic resistance, antimicrobial resistance, ticks and tick-borne disease, sheep scab, iceberg diseases, abortion or lameness. The Farmer Network could collaborate with farmer networks from other regions to replicate the formation of farmer groups focussing on priority disease problems, building on lessons learned from the initial project.
Holly Jones, Project Manager, Farmer-Scientist Network, Yorkshire Agricultural Society
Tel: +44 (0)1423 546 251 Mob: +44 (0)7977 298 902
Photos from the project