A major conference looking at tick control and heather management took place in the Cairngorms National Park on Wednesday 25 May.
Over 100 land managers and land-based workers including gamekeepers, farmers and crofters, attended the event, which was hosted by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) via its Land Based Business Training project, and co-ordinated by the Strathspey Veterinary Practice.
The aim of the seminar in Grantown-on-Spey was to outline ways of controlling ticks and louping-ill – a viral infection caused by ticks that can affect a variety of species – and to discuss ways in which estates can work with others to develop a control strategy.
Andrew Rafferty of the Strathspey Veterinary Practice and a CNPA Board Member, chaired the conference. Speaking ahead of the event he said: “Ticks are becoming an extremely serious problem, not only in terms of animal health in the way they affect grouse and sheep but also as a human health hazard, particularly in relation to Lyme Disease. The number of ticks has increased dramatically in the last ten years. This conference will look at ways of controlling tick by sheep and heather management.”
Ticks carry diseases afflicting livestock, mammals and humans. In the UK, the micro-organism causing Lyme Disease is carried by our most common tick – the sheep tick. Despite its name though, the sheep tick feeds on deer, livestock and many other smaller mammals in woodlands and moorlands such as grouse and hares.
The hazards to humans from tick bites were also a focus of the event. Those most at risk from tick-borne diseases are those working in the land-based sector such as shepherds, gamekeepers and stalkers. However, anyone who enjoys a walk in the woods or on the hills is exposed to some risk.
Controlling tick formed a major part of the conference programme. Dr Adam Smith from the Game Conservancy Trust said: “Wild animals such as deer and stock such as sheep can both host large numbers of ticks and diseases. Preventing these hosts from increasing the tick population presents significant challenges in our current climate but research suggests that moorland managers who successfully address these issues can reap the rewards with improved animal health and improved sport.
“This seminar is an opportunity for us to drive these messages home by informing those most involved in land management about recent advances in our understanding of tick ecology and control methods.”
Other speaker’s at the event included David Howarth, also from the Game Conservancy Trust; Ian Gill, a vet from Kirriemuir; Andy McMullen of the Cairngorms Moorlands Project; Dr Peter Grant from the Grantown Health Centre and John Phillips, a freelance heather management consultant.
Kate Christie, manager of the CNPA’s Land Based Business Training project said: “One of the functions of the Land Based Training project is to identify training needs and organise events where appropriate. We had lots of requests from land-based businesses for training relating to tick control so it’s been great to work with the Strathspey Veterinary Practice to deliver a conference like this one.”