WORCESTERSHIRE farmers are on high alert in case the latest livestock disease to hit the UK reaches the county.

So far there has only been one Midlands case of the Schmallenberg virus, which causes defects and miscarriages in lambs and calves, in neighbouring Gloucestershire.

Countrywide, however, more than 74 farms have been affected and the fear is the situation could get worse.

“At the moment, farms in southern and eastern England are reporting the most cases,” said Worcestershire National Farmers Union chairman Clive Davies, who farms at Mamble, “But because the disease is an unknown quantity we don’t know what to expect.

“It is a great concern and we are anxious about it but currently it is not a widespread problem in the UK. We hope it stays that way.”

The disease was first found late last summer near the German town of Schmallenberg and was formally identified only before Christmas. It spread rapidly to Belgium, France and Holland and has affected 1,000 farms across Europe.

The virus is thought to have been brought to Britain last autumn by midges blown over the North Sea. The insects are then thought to have infected pregnant cattle and sheep before the winter, with stillborn and deformed lambs and calves appearing only in recent weeks.

The disease has, as yet, no known cure and the National Farmers Union says a vaccine is at least two years away.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “As everyone connected with the livestock industry has been expecting, the number of cases of Schmallenberg has increased as lambing and calving gather pace.

“As farmers, vets and governments continue to gather information about the progress and effects of this disease, it’s vital that farmers continue to report any suspicions they have as soon as possible.

“The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says it is unlikely that Schmallenberg would cause disease in humans.”