Scientists and farming leaders are urgently seeking ways of fighting a disease new to the UK threatening sheep flocks.
Weeks after government vets confirmed the arrival in Britain of the deadly Schmallenberg virus, which causes miscarriages and birth deformities in lambs, 74 farms in southern and eastern England have been found to have the disease and the number is expected to rise sharply as the lambing season peaks.
Restrictions on animal movements, imports and exports are unlikely because officials do not want to further jeopardise rural economies to combat a virus that has also affected cattle and goats across Europe but is not thought to be dangerous to people. Public health bodies are monitoring the health of farmers, farm workers and vets who have been in contact with infected animals.
The National Farmers Union has warned of a “ticking time bomb” over the disease, which has affected up to 20% of lambs on some farms. The virus, which is thought to have been carried by midges over the North Sea or English Channel, is named after a farm in Germany where it was first identified last year. It was initially seen in cattle and quickly spread through the Netherlands and Belgium to northern France.