Bruce Thompson’s topic caught media and public imaginations because it focused on dung beetles, but the real message was just how useful they can be as part of an anthelmintic use reduction plan.
Bruce Thompson is a proud dairy farmer from Laois, and a 2020 Nuffield Scholar. Leaving secondary school in 2001 in very different economic times, he studied engineering before returning home to help his father on the home farm through a difficult TB breakdown. While the sector was not attractive to young farmers then, he fell in love with the career and never left. With an interest in sustainable animal health and the appetite to influence positively the image of the industry, he applied for and was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship.
I was concerned by rising anthelmintic (wormer) resistance, so my Nuffield research topic was about the sustainable use of anthelmintics, managing parasites at pasture and how dung beetles could be employed as a biological alternative to wormers.
My research brought me to Tasmania, where the effects that resistance has on animals has been documented, and to Southern Australia, where the government has led the introduction of dung beetles. I was fascinated by the involvement of schools in the introduction programmes in the southern hemisphere.
In the UK, I learned of the impacts that animal remedies were having on biodiversity. I learned about the decline in dung beetle populations and how insects were being used as biological tools in Germany.
My research started off with physical travel but with the global pandemic I conducted many interviews online and met many interesting people both physically and virtually.
My recommendations included a reduction in anthelmintic usage through diagnostics, as well as managing risks on farms with susceptible animals. I also advocated for industry leadership and funding for knowledge transfer. Finally, I recommended mass rearing and releasing of dung beetles through collaboration between industry and a programme such as the Agriculture Sustainability Support Advisory Programme (ASSAP) in order to help reduce nutrient loss.
While challenging for both, my scholarship has had a positive influence on my professional and personal lives. Applying for it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am genuinely very grateful for the sponsors and board for investing their resources in me.
The report I submitted shows only a small part of the work I was involved in during my research. Despite the pandemic, the scholarship enabled me to develop a new web of contacts and engage with small groups in different countries through webinars, conferences and events. Dung beetles have captured the public and media imagination, and I did a number of press, radio and even television interviews.
My topic grabbed the industry’s and farmers’ attention, too, because it dealt with an area of untapped expertise with implications for all stakeholders. This led me to widen my interest in the topic beyond the Nuffield report.
I have organised a group of dairy farmers to gain funding for the use of dung beetles through a European Innovation Partnership (EIP). I have also co-created a website, with information targeted to farmers.
I have been invited to join the parasite working group of animal Health Ireland (AHI), and been nominated as an ambassador with Farming for Nature. I have also been involved with and have worked with MSD Animal Health on sustainable parasite control. I have mass reared beetles with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) on the Isle of Islay I a bid to reverse the decline of the chough bird.
While I continue farming, I am very keen to explore work opportunities outside of my farm.
I started my research expecting it to be very technical, but I struggled to keep that focus. I didn’t find anything new or ground breaking technologies. What I found was real willingness from farmers to make changes in their use of wormers, but a lack of leadership and integration covering the economic, scientific, social and environmental aspects of agriculture. I believe this explains the huge interest in my topic.
Our industry really needs to step up and put resources into the inter-dependance of environment, animal health, social and economic aspects of animal agriculture.
Read more about Bruce’s Nuffield study topic and to download his full report click here