DAERA is not currently considering a compensation scheme for NI farm businesses impacted by Bluetongue movement restrictions, Agriculture Minister Andrew Muir has confirmed.

In an answer to a written question from Strangford MLA Michellle McIlveen, Minister Muir said he was “very aware of the individual cases” but that his primary focus is on keeping the disease out of NI.

Speaking at a recent online event on Bluetongue, former DAERA chief vet Robert Huey suggested that cattle to the value of around £0.5m are currently stranded on farms in Britain (mainly Scotland), as well as a small number of sheep.

He said DAERA will work with impacted farmers to “find a way through this,” but the solution does not currently involve bringing the animals back to the island of Ireland.

Time period

Also addressing the online event, Jim Blee, the head of DAERA animal disease policy, suggested it could be “a significant period of time” before the ban of the movement of ruminants and their germinal products (such as semen) from Britain to NI is lifted.

That ban has been in place since Bluetongue virus serotype 3 (BTV-3) was found in a cow in Kent last November.

One potential solution is dependent on a vaccine for BTV-3 being found. The alternative is that authorities in Britain look to set up virus-free regions, although with the amount of testing required, that comes at a high cost. “The impact of pursuing regionalisation on government resource and on the industry is very significant,” said Blee.

If nothing changes, impacted farmers will either have to sell their stock or wait for Britain to recover disease free status for Bluetongue – it can be granted two years from the date of the last positive case.

Hope for a BTV-3 vaccine by June

While vaccines are available for a number of Bluetongue virus serotypes, there isn’t a product approved for the serotype 3 (BTV-3) which spread through Europe last year and identified in England last November.

However, according to Dutch vet Margit Groenevelt, a vaccine is currently in development.

“Our government is fairly optimistic that we might have something in June. I know it is being tested at the moment. We think June might be in time to stop a full-on outbreak,” she said.


Speaking at the DAERA event on Bluetongue, Groenevelt outlined the devastating impact an outbreak of BTV-3 has on livestock farms. The first cases in the Netherlands in 2023 were reported at the start of September and disease levels dropped off in November once cold weather curtailed midge activity (the main cause of virus spread).

In that period, approximately 50,000 sheep and 5,000 cattle died. On virus-hit farms, Groenevelt described a “hopeless situation” that negatively impacted both economics and mental health.

Affected animals were lethargic, had high fever, painful legs and feet, lesions in the mouth, swelling of the head. Sheep were most susceptible.

The worst cases resulted in sudden death, but other animals had to be euthanised to prevent further suffering.

“In terms of treatments, everything was tried that you can think of. There is no ‘magic bullet’,” she said.