Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA) research programme 2022-2027: mid-programme review report

Findings of the mid-programme review of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture research programme 2022 to 2027.

5. Theme A: Plant and Animal Health

The Plant and Animal Health theme covers the topics plant disease, animal disease and animal welfare with a combined total of 18 projects. The grant offer for Theme A projects in 2023-24 was circa £5m.

Impact resulting from previous research programmes continue to arise and be reported through current projects. For example, continuation of research on commercialisation of a vaccine for chlamydial abortion (ovine enzootic abortion) in sheep is currently underway. This important research contributes to improve animal health and welfare and the sustainability of livestock production in Scotland. Both safeguarding public health and sustainably improving livestock production to meet global food security challenges.

Research funded through the previous two SRPs demonstrated proof-of-principle and then determined how production could be simplified, making it more commercially viable.

Moredun scientists are now working with a commercial company on a vaccine licensing agreement and commercialisation.

5.1 Science Excellence and Reach

The SAB commented that while the projects within Theme A are at an early stage in the cycle of the programme they demonstrated a number of good examples of working at the national levels to advocate internationally competitive research and innovation.

SAB noted there was evidence that research within the theme was internationally competitive, based on outputs such as publications in high prestigious journals delivering real solutions to agriculture. SAB noted however this needs to be quantified. SAB suggested the Themes quantify the outputs in comparison to three competitor international research performing organisations of their choosing.

SAB commented there is no evidence of duplication of past research for A1 (Plant Disease), A2 (Animal Disease), or A3 (Animal Welfare). It was noted the research often builds on research from previous programmes. SAB commented while there may be duplication of technology/methodology from the past research the objectives of current research is clear and focused.

A SAB member noted the work on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in the context of reducing the use of pesticides (important in the context of Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy) seems particularly relevant and the focus on late potato blight is unlikely to duplicate research elsewhere.

SAB noted it was important to ensure the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reductions due to improved animal health can be reliably quantified to ensure these can be recognised in the national inventory calculations.

SAB members commented on several gaps, which should be considered including:

  • A1 (Plant Disease): The need for ongoing Research and Development (R&D) on IPM has been identified. This would be typically longer-term, strategic work, to address issues regarding loss of effective chemistries due to resistance or legislation. For this, both fundamental (e.g. BBSRC) and applied (e.g. Innovate

UK/Industry) funding sources can be leveraged. Scope to link more closely with Plant Health Centre has been identified. Issues around new disease pressures arising from the use of peat replacements may be an R&D gap.

  • A2 (Animal Disease): The need to align research on sheep scab with pilot intervention study has been identified as an immediate gap/opportunity. Further proposals for pilot studies are in preparation (Johne’s disease). Fundamental work on Vector Borne Diseases. Scope to link more closely with Centre for Animal Disease (EPIC) and social sciences research (e.g. A3) has been identified.
  • A3 (Animal Welfare): Scope to link research/pilot studies on sheep scab (A2) with welfare R&D has been identified. Opportunities for R&D relating to welfare of livestock during transport.
  • SAB observed there was a common need for diagnostics and better predictive modelling across Theme A.

5.2 Research Impact

SAB reported Theme A is making clear progress towards impact in many areas. In the case studies presented there was good interactions with either farmers, the food industry or policymakers as appropriate. It was noted that in some cases researchers were able to provide a monetary value of their research findings.

The following was noted on impact by Topic:

  • A1 (Plant Disease): Good evidence has been provided to show that outputs are being used to make progress towards impact, including support for a range of industry stakeholders. The work aligns well with overarching Net Zero and Biodiversity policy drivers, to include adapting to the effects of climate change which will include complex changes in pest and disease pressures across different landscapes and sectors. The development of effective IPM strategies across a range of Scottish crop production systems (barley, potato, soft fruit, and other horticultural crops) is critical to address the potential loss of effectiveness of available chemistries, alongside the need to reduce inputs/costs, legislation, etc.
  • A2 (Animal Disease): Good evidence of progress towards impact, based on translational funding already secured.
  • A3 (Animal Welfare): Clear progress to impact is presented, e.g. links from R&D in the area of Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) to support policies/legislation relating to animal welfare. It would be useful to hear more how planned R&D relates to policies relating to animal transport/export and wider sustainable farming initiatives. Excellent evidence of wider stakeholder engagement activities.

SAB agreed Theme A had demonstrated good examples of research outputs which are delivering and projects were presented that are highly relevant to address the triple challenges of food production, climate and nature however the significance would need to be quantified.

5.3 Scottish Government Policy Priorities

The following highlights the policy priority categorisation and observations noted for research projects within Theme A. Other stakeholder priorities, such as industry, have not been reflected in the categorisation below but are considered key to a projects overall impact/importance.


5 projects, 2023-24 spend circa £2m

All research projects on the topic of plant health have been classified as critical to policy officials. These projects look at understanding pest and disease incidence and developing improved disease management in practice. This research will help inform the UK National Action Plan on responsible use of pesticides and provide information and evidence needed for farmers to increase uptake of integrated pest management practices.

Research which has associated innovation and impacts beyond the current programme has been identified as Critical, including the development and use of advanced in vitro culture systems to interrogate host-pathogen interactions in livestock species. The importance of the future outputs of this research to animal health and welfare, the sustainability of livestock production in Scotland (including reducing associated GHG emissions), and safeguarding public health are seen as critical to policy officials.

Research providing evidence to inform development and implementation of Scottish legislation to align with EU Animal Health Regulations, in particular the development of legislation for Identification, Registration and Movement (IRM) of camelids and cervids.


12 projects, 2023-24 spend circa £2m

Research identified as important to policy officials includes projects which will provide evidence to; control and prevent of economically-important diseases of livestock, vaccines for diseases in sheep and cattle, improve welfare, promote animal husbandry in sustainable farming systems, the antimicrobial use in livestock and resistance, biosecurity practices and sheep and cattle traceability.

The above research areas importantly feed into key policy delivery such as Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill, Agricultural Reform Programme (ARP), Scottish Government strategies on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and other individual policies development. Vaccination research enhances animal welfare both safeguarding public health and sustainably improving livestock production to meet global food security challenges.


6 projects, 2023-24 spend circa £1m

Research in Theme A has been classified as desirable by policy officials when outputs cannot be directly linked to animal or plant health policy needs. For example, some research focuses on human health concern and could be funded elsewhere on grounds of public health.

A research project has been classified as desirable where key research questions are being answered by other funders, although often the individual projects can provide an additional insight.

5.4 Theme A Conclusion

Overall Theme A has demonstrated the research is delivering relevant outputs to address the triple challenges of food production, climate and nature.

In Plant and Animal Health research there is a need to understand and adapt to the pressures of climate change, including altered pest and disease pressures. There is also a need to reduce inputs to preserve biodiversity. The following recommendations have been noted for Theme A:

  • SAB Recommendation: Theme A looks to embed more social sciences Research and Development (R&D) and stakeholder elicitation activities.
  • SAB Recommendation: It is recommended that research gaps in Theme A identified by SAB, and discussed above, are reviewed by RESAS and options to address gaps are investigated.


Email: SRF@gov.scot

Back to top