A TOP vet is warning Lakes and Dales farmers that a new outbreak of the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) could spread to the north and west of England.

Alick Simmons, Defra’s deputy chief veterinary officer, said the re-emergence of the sheep and cattle disease had come as ‘no surprise’ but it was impossible to predict ‘how far and how fast’ the infection would spread.

He said a major SBV surveillance programme was being launched throughout the country and urged farmers to be vigilant for signs of infection, which can lead to stillborn and deformed lambs and calves.

His concerns were echoed by South Lakeland vet Iain Richards, who said: "There is no doubt the disease will spread to the north and west as the midges spread. But on the plus side, if animals get the disease before pregnancy they will quickly develop immunity and any lambs they carry later will not be affected."

The Schmallenberg virus - named after a German town where it was first detected - could have arrived with imported livestock or the migration of midges across the North Sea. Previously, it had only infected farms in the south east of England.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron said scientists and officials were ‘struggling to predict the situation’ as the virus had only recently been discovered, but he said further cases were expected.

“There is still a worrying unknown element to the Schmallenberg virus, as we cannot predict its long term impact,” said Mr Farron. “It is therefore absolutely vital that we get a proper handle on this disease sooner rather than later.

“If the infection spreads to the north and west of the country, where our cows and sheep have not had any opportunity to build up some immunity to the virus and just as our livestock are in the early stages of pregnancy, this could be especially damaging.

“Therefore it is vital that the Government has a proper plan in place, from on farm testing to providing a vaccination to ensure this does not become another agricultural crisis.”