This project originally arose following a meeting hosted by the Farmer-Scientist Network at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society between the Hill Sheep Farming stakeholders and key strategic partners including: University of Warwick, University of Newcastle, University of Liverpool, SRUC, Foundation for Common Land, the National Sheep Association and the breed associations for the Swaledale, Rough Fell, Dales Bred, and Herdwick sheep breeds.
As a result of the meeting one major concern identified was the unintended animal health related consequences of agri-environment schemes. Elements of the existing agri-environment schemes impact on farmers’ ability to maintain sustainable production as a result of sheep diseases that farmers are finding difficult to control within the scheme prescriptions.
The group identified an opportunity to challenge a problem inherent across the North of England and solve it through an approach called Participatory Epidemiology.
What is Participatory Epidemiology?
Participatory Epidemiology (PE) is a relatively new branch of epidemiology which uses participatory methods to involve livestock keepers in the analysis of animal diseases and the design, implementation and evaluation of disease control programmes.
The term ‘participatory’ refers to the involvement of communities in defining and prioritising veterinary problems and in the development of solutions. The technique has been successfully used in developing countries including Pan African Rinderpest Campaign which used pastoralists’ knowledge of rinderpest to locate disease outbreaks in remote areas. Its use in the developed world has so far been limited but the approach could result in disease control strategies that are jointly designed by farmers and veterinarians, taking into account the local context, which are likely to result in better outcomes.
What does the project aim to do?
The aim of this project is to develop this participatory approach for hill sheep farmers in Cumbria and Yorkshire. Two groups of hill farmers will each identify a disease issue relevant to their hill sheep and support them in finding solutions through holding meetings, gathering evidence, getting the right advice and then sharing what they have learnt.
This will be achieved by providing farmers with a method to gather the evidence of the disease problem; designing a framework to work together to share their knowledge and experience with others within the community; for farmers to contribute to finding the solutions necessary to improve animal health and productivity; and provide a method by which the improvements to animal health and sustainable productivity can be measured.
The project will help the participating farmers to:
identify the main diseases that adversely affect the health and welfare of their hill sheep;
develop methods to gather the evidence of the disease problem which will include the use of a mobile phone app;
design and put into practice approaches to the evaluation and control of these diseases;
develop methods to share the knowledge and experience gained with other farmers and stakeholders
What are the benefits for Hill Sheep Farmers?
Encourage new thinking on how we gather and use data in an innovative system to gain empirical from hill sheep farmers and inform/advise farmers on farm management changes necessary for the sustainability and growth of their farms.
Exchange knowledge with, and provide training and education for farmers, environmental groups and local veterinary practices.
Drive a ‘bottom-up’ approach focussing on practical needs and priorities of the farmers.
- Empower farmers to identify and solve their own problems, a role in the decision making process increasing their sense of ownership and commitment towards sustaining the system.
Identify elements and provide evidence of management practices used within agri-environment schemes that may have unintentionally had a negative impact on hill sheep farming.
How will the data be collated?
The development of the phone application will give farmers a simple tool to record this data in addition to physical data gathering such as blood sampling and testing (collated by vet students).