07.11.12: Schmallenberg virus
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead was asked what action was being taken to minimise the impact of the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) on agriculture.
The Cabinet Secretary said: “The Schmallenberg virus is a relatively low impact disease spread by midges, although infection during particular stages of pregnancy can lead to problems around lambing or calving time.
“Helping producers to make informed management decisions is key to minimising the impact of the Schmallenberg virus. The Scottish Government has therefore funded enhanced surveillance and delivery of guidance to veterinary practices, and it has worked with the industry to facilitate the testing of animals that are imported from affected areas.”
Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald said: “Although no acute cases have been recorded in Scotland, it is clear that farmers who have recently imported livestock from high-risk SBV areas must be extra vigilant and ensure that introduced breeding stock are tested for the virus.” He asked whether there had been any progress on producing a vaccine and whether there was a timetable for its introduction.
Lochhead replied: “I should point out for the record that, so far, four premises in Scotland have been confirmed as having the virus, which compares to about 300 south of the border. Clearly, we must pay close attention to the issue. A vaccine could offer a solution to the issue for livestock keepers.
“As the member might be aware, vaccines are usually developed by commercial enterprises, which must seek a licence from the United Kingdom Government before they make a vaccine commercially available.
“As things stand, no vaccine has yet been approved for use on these islands, but I understand that a submission has been made to the UK Government’s veterinary medicines directorate for a provisional licence for a vaccine. The uncertainties that are associated with vaccine licences, as a result of the rigorous nature of the testing that is required before they are put on the market, mean that it is difficult to say exactly what the timescale will be for making that available. However, we hope that a vaccine is available in the near future.”
Conservative rural affairs and environment spokesman Alex Fergusson then asked about the Kinnaird review – which had recommended the closure of a number of the country’s veterinary investigation centres.
Lochhead said: “No decisions have yet been taken on the recommendations of the review, which we will consider in the months that lie ahead. Cases such as the outbreak of Schmallenberg virus—no doubt, that is the context of the member’s question—highlight the importance of our surveillance infrastructure in Scotland and why we have to get those decisions right.”
First Minister’s Question
08.11.12: Trees (Fungal Diseases)
Alex Salmond was asked about the impact of fungal diseases – and ash dieback – on trees in Scotland.
He said: “Forestry Commission officials worked around the clock to complete a rapid survey to identify potential distribution of the disease in Scotland. I am sure that members will join me in thanking all those who helped to undertake that work.
“This week, we have also responded to a request for assistance from Forestry Commission England by sending 15 staff to help it to complete its survey.
I can inform the chamber that, as of this morning, there were 11 sites in Scotland with confirmed signs of the disease.
“Because infection from ash dieback is seasonal, we have a window of opportunity to further develop our plans to mitigate its impact. The Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse, will convene a summit of key stakeholders this Tuesday to take that process forward.”
SNP Aberdeen South MSP Maureen Watt asked what was being done to protect the “iconic Scots Pine”.
He replied: “The Forestry Commission has undertaken regular surveys of pine species and we are monitoring closely the impact on the Scots pine. Trials of forest management techniques and chemical treatments are under way to identify ways to manage the risk that the disease poses to those trees. As a government, we are doing everything that we can to protect the Scots Pine species, which is truly iconic in Scotland, as the member was right to say.”
Cowdenbeath MPS Helen Eadie asked Environment and Climate Change Minister Paul Wheelhouse a series of questions on flooding after the storms which affected parts of Scotland.
She asked what the Scottish Government would to ensure people affected by flooding are less vulnerable in future and whether it would offer guaranteed insurance for properties at risk of floods.
Wheelhouse said: “Financial service matters such as insurance are reserved to the UK Government, and the provision of insurance is a matter for the commercial market.
The Scottish Government is working with the UK Government, the other devolved administrations and the Association of British Insurers to agree a way forward and find a practical solution to flood insurance availability for those at risk of flooding post-June 2013, when the current statement of principles between the Government and the insurance industry runs out.
He added: “The Scottish Government is committed to safeguarding the communities of Scotland from flooding.
“We are working to reduce flood risk across the whole of Scotland through the implementation of the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 and the continued funding of large-scale flood protection schemes.”
Eadie also asked what assessment had been made that flood defences in Fife were adequate.
He said: “In 2007, all the existing flood defences in Scotland were assessed as part of the establishment of the Scottish Government’s Flood Defence Asset Database. Since then, a new National Flood Risk Assessment has been undertaken by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the outputs from which were approved by ministers on 22 December 2011.
“The assessment has identified areas where significant flood risk exists – ‘Potentially Vulnerable Areas’ – and for the first time we have a national picture of flood risk across Scotland.
“This represents a key milestone towards Scotland being able to target efforts to plan and invest in reducing impacts in areas most vulnerable to flooding, which will help Scotland become more resilient to the impacts of flooding.”