The Welsh Government has been criticised for delaying funds to help eradicate sheep scab in Wales.

Despite the fact that a free testing service remains available, funding to eradicate the problem has been delayed because of efforts to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

UKIP leader in the Senedd, Neil Hamilton, who sits on the climate change, environment and rural affairs committee, is angry that a £5million allocation for the eradication programme has been reprioritised because of the pandemic.

He said: “While I welcome the free sheep scab testing service, which is on offer to farmers, I am very disappointed and concerned to hear that funds to get rid of this dreadful disease are being allocated elsewhere.

“Yes, Covid-19 is still with us, but the rest of life has to continue and we must learn to live with it and not sacrifice everything else on the altar of Covid. Yes, the crisis is putting a huge strain on Government finances but, once again, it is the farmers who are getting a raw deal.

“Sheep scab is one of the most contagious diseases for sheep in Wales. It is a serious threat to the industry and it is a dereliction of duty to farmers for Welsh Government to snatch this money away.”

NFU Cymru is calling for Welsh farmers to take advantage of the free examination of skin scrape samples from sheep showing suspected clinical signs of sheep scab.

The scheme is operated by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, APHA and funded by the Welsh Government, running until March 31, 2021.

The initiative will aid accurate diagnosis, which is a prerequisite for appropriate treatment and successful control of sheep scab; a priority of the Wales Animal Health and Welfare Framework and will also encourage sheep farmers to work with their veterinary surgeon to protect their flocks from sheep scab.

The free sheep scab testing service will see testing undertaken at APHA Carmarthen VIC, which is also the centre of expertise for disease surveillance of extensively managed livestock

NFU Cymru livestock chairman Wyn Evans said: “Sheep scab is an absolutely dreadful disease with serious welfare and production implications if it is not accurately diagnosed and treated promptly and effectively.

"It is a disease that we really need to get on top in this country and I would encourage farmers across Wales to contact their vets and make use of this testing opportunity.

“Stakeholders from the sheep sector in Wales have developed and put forward to Welsh Government an eradication plan for sheep scab and we were pleased that in January 2019 the minister committed £5 million of Wales RDP funding for sheep scab eradication.

“I am extremely disappointed that this funding has still not been allocated to the industry, but in response to a question I asked on this matter at the NFU Cymru conference, I feel somewhat reassured that the minister recognises the importance of this money being made available to support the industry initiative.”