Farmers across Sussex are bracing themselves for the return of a crippling virus as the lambing season begins.

The county has been one of the worst hit areas in the country for Schmallenberg, which causes life-threatening deformities in sheep and cattle embryos.

The most recent figures available show there have been outbreaks affecting 56 farms in East Sussex and 49 in West Sussex during the latest outbreak.

Most of the cases involve sheep, while the rest have affected cattle herds.

The virus, which came to Britain from the continent, is spread by midges.

Although the midges died off during winter, tests have revealed around 200 new cases are still being reported around the country every month.

Farmers and vets are urging the Government to decide whether to use vaccines in a bid to keep the number of cases down.

With lambing season about to start, farmers fear more new cases could emerge over the coming months.

Lost lambs

Trevor Passmore, from Coombes Farm in Lancing, lost around 150 lambs as a result of the virus during lambing season last year.

He said: “We’ve had them screened for this year and we seem to be OK at the moment.

“However the problem is that we won’t really know until the lambing season actually starts. It’s a waiting game.

“It is too late for a vaccine for this year but if they managed to get one available by the summer then I think a lot of people would be more than happy to use it and hopefully eradicate the virus.”

Viral impact

Livestock industry bodies, including the National Farmers Union, have launched a national online survey of farmers so they can try to record the impact of Schmallenberg this year.

NFU livestock chairman Charles Sercombe said: “I have experienced the devastating impact of Schmallenberg on my own flock and it’s vitally important we get a national picture of the disease.

“The collective picture built from individuals’ responses will significantly help our understanding of the grassroots situation.”

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