CUMBRIAN-BORN Amanda Carson is one of the UK’s leading sheep vets, heading the Government’s expert group monitoring disease threats such as exotic diseases like Bluetongue or changes in endemic diseases that could impact on sheep farming.

She has just been elected junior vice-president of the Sheep Veterinary Association at its autumn meeting, which follows closely on her being made an associate of the Royal Agricultural Societies earlier in the year.

“I’m really humbled that the Sheep Veterinary Association has asked me to be president, which is a real accolade to be recognised by your peers,” said Amanda.

“But I was equally honoured to be made an associate of the Royal Agricultural Societies as that comes from the farming community.”

Amanda, 62, was born in Seascale, which has been home for almost the last three decades following worldwide travel for ten years. She left Wyndham School, Cockermouth, at 16 with GCSEs.

With no farming background, her experience of working with animals was having two sheep - Bunty and Snowy - when she was a toddler and working at the then Muncaster Zoo looking after the bears, Winnie and Rupert.

After leaving school she got the opportunity to go to Guatemala and spent some time working with what was then very novel embryo transfer in cattle.

After travelling in Europe she went to Australia in 1980 where she trained to be a veterinary nurse, then went to vet school as a ‘mature student’ to train and qualify as a veterinary surgeon.

“I trained as a veterinarian in Australia, a country that places considerable value on its sheep industry and where I gained valuable sheep farming experience,” she said.

“I returned to the UK and became a partner in a traditional rural mixed practice with two centres, four vets serving the farming community of West Cumbria including the valleys of Ennerdale, Eskdale and Wasdale. I kept a small flock of sheep that increased to 60 ewes and lambs at foot, mainly Herdwicks and a few Cheviots, in part to better understand the regulatory demands on farmers.”

The 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic, which had a huge impact on so many people, was pivotal for Amanda’s veterinary career.

“A month into the epidemic the disease was found on a hill farm in Cumbria and the consequences for the hefted flocks of Herdwicks on the unfenced fells were potentially disastrous.

“In what became a race against time, I co-ordinated Herdwick farmers and a team of vets who collected semen and embryos, using my practice lambing shed to store the germplasm flasks. At the same time, I liaised with Defra officials in Page Street, London, on a daily basis regarding the development of licences for which there was no precedent,” said Amanda.

“In one month we secured 2,196 semen doses from 155 rams over 13 farms and 178 viable embryos from 59 ewes. Other breeds were collected from including the Lonk, Dalesbred, Whitefaced Woodland, Portland and Rough Fell and the Heritage Genebank was established – the first genebank for sheep in the UK. Subsequently the charity the Sheep Trust was formed.”

From then on Amanda became more involved with sheep-related activities on a national scale - yet remaining committed to Cumbria’s farming community.

In 2006 her knowledge and expertise led her to sell her share in the veterinary practice and work for the Government, where she is now APHA small ruminant species expert lead.

“I loved working in the practice. It was my absolute passion but after foot and mouth I began asking myself: ‘Can I do more for the industry?’ Working in Government I would be providing farmers with advice and also be involved with the policy-makers.

“When I left the practice a lot of my clients said I was going to ‘the dark side’ but they didn’t hold it against me!” Amanda has always been able to work closely with farmers, none more so than in the role of secretary of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association, which she also took on in 2006.

She has raised the profile of the indigenous Lake District breed and provided a benchmark for other sheep societies in her achievements, providing advice to other breed societies through the NSA Breed Society Forum.

Amanda implemented a breed society data base with the early adoption of EID tag recording.

Looking to the future of the breed, she oversaw the enhancement of the Herdwick gene-bank through collection of embryos. She secured the use of two Innovis Aberdale rams which were used to monitor performance of the Herdwick draft ewe (2011).

Also she achieved European Protected Designation of Origin Lakeland Herdwick protected food name status.

With sheep health and welfare uppermost, she established the Herdwick Development Group – organising Animal Health & Welfare discussion groups and events which are open to all farmers.

More recently, last year she established the Herdwick Sheep Scab local initiative in conjunction with SCOPS.

On a wider scale, she helped established the Cumbria Agricultural Shows Consortium securing funding to provide marquees and insurance to maintain viability of small local shows.

Amanda represented HSBA as part of the successful UNESCO World Heritage Site bid and is currently member of Task & Action Group.

As the small ruminant species expert lead with APHA she looks for any disease that might threaten the industry.

“I’m looking out for the next BSE by monitoring what comes through the post-mortem rooms of our Government-funded labs and keeping my ear to the ground, sharing any potential threats and observations with industry and Government.

“I have been helped by the fact that I have a good relationship with farmers.”

Her work with the APHA involves worldwide and international travel to attend meetings and speak at key veterinary industry and animal health events.

She has written guidelines for contingency plans for breeds at risk during an outbreak of an exotic disease such as foot and mouth .

She publishes a monthly sheep England and Wales surveillance report in the Veterinary Record and a quarterly GB sheep emerging threats report for the Government. She has also published a number of veterinary papers.

She is vice-chair of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Farmer Scientist Network which secured £140,000 of EIP Agri funding for the operational group Hill Sheep Health North to explore the problem of liver fluke on hill farms.

Amanda is a council member of the Sheep and Goat Veterinary Societies and Government Veterinarians. She is vice-chair of the Farmer Network and a member of the sheep health and welfare group.

“I am fortunate to be in a position where I can support the hill farmers in my local area by recognising and implementing benefits to the community and raising awareness of the sustainability and environmental conservation provided by the agro pastoralism practised by Herdwick farmers,” says Amanda.

“In many ways I feel I am a channel of communication, hoping to influence both farmers and policy makers to improve both human and animal health and welfare.”

Initially, Amanda thought she would like to specialise in equine veterinary work but she says “sheep chose me”. However, she has two horses - a retired Lipizzaner and five year old Arab Trakehner cross - and a companion pony and she enjoys endurance riding, taking part in events in the north of England and south west Scotland. She is also a beekeeper.