THE devastating cattle disease bovine tuberculosis has been found on farms in South Lakeland and north Lancashire.
Farmers have been left reeling since 150 farms became subject to strict testing following an outbreak in the Lune Valley.
Already, dozens of cattle have had to be slaughtered in what is the first significant outbreak in South Lakeland in more than 50 years.
Defra confirmed five herds have tested positively for the infection – four in one area bounded by the M6, the A65 and the B6254, and another area around Flookburgh.
Fears are now growing that TB, which was eradicated from Cumbria in the 1950s, could be transmitted to local wildlife – raising the prospect it could become endemic.
A three kilometre cattle testing zone has been established around Sandgate Farm in Flookburgh, where farmer Edward Wilson described his shock when one of his cows tested positive for the disease after slaughter.
He said he bought the cow from a farm which now lies within the Kirkby Lonsdale testing zone, in November.
“They found TB in its lungs at the slaughterhouse and after that my whole herd of 90 was subjected to skin and blood tests,” he said.
“In the end four others had to be slaughtered.
“We are upset for our neighbours who have had to be tested, including one who has had to put 500 dairy cattle through.”
A farmer from the Lune Valley, who did not wish to be named, said his ‘ordeal’ with TB began when a routine test showed up an ‘inconclusive’ result in a cow from his herd of 300.
After a second inconclusive result the cow was slaughtered and the farm placed on 60-day testing.
TB has since been found in a further 16 cattle. With the next round of testing due soon, he described the process as an ‘absolute nightmare’.
“One of the hardest things is losing good quality stock which appeared to be perfectly healthy,” he said.
“We just have to hope that the next tests will be clear.”
Vet Kirsty Ranson, of the Westmorland Veterinary Group, said there was a lot of fear and uncertainty in the farming community.
In partnership with other local vet groups, a meeting is being held later this month with Derbyshire vet Chris Parker, who deals with TB cases regularly.
“This area is traditionally only subject to four-yearly testing, so it is a big unknown to farmers,” she said.
“Aside from the extra work it creates, there are financial implications and it is hugely stressful.”
While Defra could not confirm how many cows have had to be slaughtered across the area, Ms Ranson said around 25 cows had been slaughtered from the 15 to 20 clients she has in the testing zones.
Gonzalo Sanchez, Defra’s lead vet for the North, said the source of the outbreak had not been identified, but Defra was working with the National Farmers’ Union to ensure the testing regime was carried out effectively.
“Once an infected cow is identified, rigorous ‘source’ and ‘spread’ tracing are carried out – looking at where the cow has been and which other livestock it has come into contact with.
“To keep it in perspective, the five confirmed cases are out of 3,500 registered cattle herds in Cumbria.”
NFU’s Cumbria livestock representative Trevor Wilson said farmers were worried about the lasting effects.
“Cumbria is one of the best breeding areas in this country and our farmers pride themselves on the fact their stock is hugely sought after,” he said.
“Their greatest fear is that Cumbria’s reputation as a world class sheep and cattle producing county is tarnished by the TB.”
Adam Day, managing director of North West Auctions which runs the marts at Kendal and Lancaster, said: “We must not underestimate the impact on farming families as their cattle are tested and if necessary, slaughtered.”
TB in local wildlife
A NIGHTMARE scenario feared by farmers and vets in South Lakeland and north Lancashire is that bovine TB found in local cattle herds could spread into wildlife.
If that happens, it would be a major game changer in the struggle against the devastating disease.
Once TB is established in wild mammals such as badgers it could be difficult if not impossible to eradicate – in the South West of England, where the disease is rampant, badger cull trials have been approved.
Deer, foxes, rats, hares and moles are all capable of carrying bovine TB.
Kirsty Ranson, from Westmorland Veterinary Group, said: “If TB gets into our wildlife we have got a really big problem.
“You only have to look down south to see what the effect would be on farmers; they would be subject to yearly testing and have all of the hard work and stress.
“We really need to close down this outbreak and I hope that farmers can see the huge significance of doing that.”
Gonzalo Sanchez, Defra’s north regional vet, said a wildlife surveillance zone has been set up around the area of the Kirkby Lonsdale testing area.
“Currently there is no evidence that TB is in the local wildlife, but we don’t want to be complacent," he said.
“Deer being shot by stalkers in that area bounded by the M6 from junction 36 down to Carnforth, along the A65 to Kirkby Lonsdale, and down the B6254, are being tested at our labs in Penrith. Any badgers which are found dead in this zone only are also tested.”
He appealed for any members of the public who find dead badgers in the specified area (pictured above) to contact the Cumbrian office for the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency on 01768 885295.
"Dead badgers from within this area will be collected by AHVLA staff for TB culture," he said. "We will ask for the exact location of the dead badger to confirm eligibility for testing."
Anyone from the farming community concerned about a TB outbreak and keen to find out more can attend a meeting at J36 auction mart at Crooklands on Thursday, May 23, from 7.30pm.
• Bovine TB is caused by a bacterium, which can also infect badgers, deer, sheep, cats, and other mammals.
• The risk of people contracting TB from cattle is very low.
• Symptoms, including weakness, coughing and loss of weight, are rarely seen in cattle due to the slow progression of infection.
• It is mainly a respiratory disease, spread through breathing and close contact, but there is also evidence of indirect transmission through contact with saliva, urine and droppings.
• Most cattle herds are subject to the Government’s compulsory testing and slaughter programme at least every four years.
• The highest number of cases are in South western counties, including Gloucestershire, Devon and Cornwall.
• Government figures show 3,000 cattle are culled every month in Britain because of TB.
• Cumberland, followed closely by Westmorland, was the first English county to be officially declared TB-free during the 1950s.