FARMERS in Cumbria and Yorkshire are using a phone app to help combat the continuing risk of devastating liver fluke in their flocks.

They are taking part in the Hill Sheep Health North Project funded by the European Innovation Partnership.

The project came about after the Farmer Scientist Network identified the problems of living with and managing liver fluke in hill sheep flocks.

In this project farmers, vets and experts are sharing their knowledge and information to help form a solution.

Liver fluke is a major parasite problem in the north of England and control is difficult, particularly where flocks are only gathered for treatments several times a year. Moorland and upland fields can be ideal habitats for the mud snail host.

Farmers have discussed their current flock treatments and are recording and linking their data with a phone application. They are gaining greater understanding of the parasite, participating in regular testing, working closely with their vets and finding the most effective treatments for their flock.

Earlier this month, 16 farmers and four vets attended an on-farm event at Keswick about liver fluke.

Organised by the Penrith-based Farmer Network, farmers learned what the Hill Sheep Health North Project has been investigating.

They heard from national liver fluke specialist researchers Dr Phillip Skuce, of Moredun Research Institute, and Dr Rhys Jones, from Aberystwyth University, on methods to help control liver fluke and avoid resistance to flukicides.

“Detection of fluke in livestock is difficult, but there are a range of tests,” said Mr Skuce.

“Avoidance of the livestock picking up the cysts is key – by making your farm less mud snail-friendly, or avoiding grazing the places where they live and therefore spreading fluke cysts.

“Different active ingredients kill different life-stages of the fluke.

“Resistance to triclabendazole is considered to be widespread, but the total picture is unknown. Pockets of resistance have been found all over the west of the UK.

“Every farm and every year is different and, particularly in the warmer, wetter west, the cysts are available to be eaten nearly all year round. So testing for presence of fluke, grazing management and careful use of the right flukicide product are all key to living with fluke.”

Dr Rhys Jones studied one farm in detail for five years, monitoring the presence of liver fluke alongside livestock management.

He said: “Mud snails are most active April to October, some overwinter and then die in the spring and some die in dry conditions over the summer. But we mainly see the symptoms of fluke in livestock in the autumn and early winter.

“Moisture in summer is the most important factor – they can survive in moist conditions for months, but can survive in dry conditions for only one month.

“Thick grass, or moss without any bare mud is not good habitat for snails.

“Light poaching by livestock disturbs the surface and allows bare mud to be colonised by algae – which the snails graze. The underlying geology affects how dry, wet or acid the conditions are for snails. They don’t like soil that is sandy, peaty, or less than pH 5.1. They don’t like deep water, but do like the banks of slow-moving streams.”

See updates on the project, visit