Researchers from the University of Liverpool are leading a new campaign to tackle a disease in cattle that costs the UK economy £300m each year. The £1 million project, which involves the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), will look at how to improve the detection and control of liver fluke, a disease that is transmitted by the dwarf pond snail and is found on over 75% of UK dairy farms.Dairy cattle grazing in a field © Brian Robert Marshall and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons licence

The disease causes cattle to lose weight, become anaemic, lethargic and reduces productivity in dairy and beef herds. Outside of the UK, there have also been examples of it being transmitted to humans.

Veterinary parasitologist, Professor Diana Williams, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, said, “This disease is on the increase, partly due to climate change and changes in farming practices and it is fast becoming difficult to treat because of growing resistance to medication.”

To combat this problem, the scientific team is collaborating with the farming industry to undertake a four-year research programme that will improve management of the disease; use drug treatment sustainably; create practical differences in farming techniques; and develop detection processes to mitigate the impact of the disease on the UK farming industry.

As well as improving the use of treatments at specific times of year to slow the development of drug resistance, the team will create a system to categorise snail habitats that can be used alongside satellite imagery for individual farms. 

Dr Matthew O'Hare of CEH said, "This project presents a really interesting opportunity for our freshwater and herbivore ecologists to work together helping UK farmers and the environment. We will map and overlay mud snail habitat, with information on cattle movements within fields. That information will help identify the risk of fluke on a farm and help suggest solutions to the problem."

Professor Williams added, “We will also look at husbandry practices and physical and environmental factors from a study of 250 farms to feed into statistical and mathematical models that will help us determine more effectively why some farms have fluke whilst others in close proximity do not.”

The initiative is co-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and the five UK meat and milk levy boards, EBLEX (English Beef and Lamb Executive), HCC (Meat Promotion Wales), Quality Meat Scotland, AgriSearch (Northern Ireland), and DairyCo.  As well as the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, it also involves researchers from the Moredun Research Institute and the Scottish Rural University College (SRUC).

Additional information

The University of Liverpool issued a press release for this story.





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