LITTLEMORE resident and animal welfare officer Alice Harsant has spoken of the challenges she faces ensuring safety standards in a socially distanced Oxfordshire.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Oxfordshire Trading Standards has aimed to ensure farming checks and animal inspections continue, and are carried out safely.

Team member Ms Harsant, 25, is one of the county council’s animal health and welfare enforcement officers.

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She has had to find innovative ways to keep working, while playing her part in stopping the spread of virus.

Speaking of her role she said: “I’d always wanted a career involving animals.

“As I grew older, I realised working with people was also a passion. My trading standards role allows me to do both, making a really positive difference to farmers and the broader Oxfordshire community.

“When I return home, I’m welcomed by Abi, my 18-year-old cat, and by two rabbits, David and Alexis. There’s also a tank full of cherry shrimp.”

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Speaking of adapting to new ways of working, she said: “We’re all treating ‘stop the spread’ extremely seriously.

“But it’s when I’m visiting farms and other centres that the challenge really starts.

“When the pandemic arrived, the team paused routine inspections, focusing on complaints and critical control points such as markets and abattoirs.

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“Most farmers live on the same land as their livestock, operating their business from their homes.

“This meant I had to move my work from domestic premises to more open areas, such as fields.

“I monitor and examine paperwork, holding registers, movement records, details of on-farm deaths, disposal of carcases, and veterinary medicine records.

“Many farmers hold these details in paper copy only. Sharing them by email simply isn’t an option.”

Talking of the challenges brought about by the pandemic she said: “We enforce legislation that covers the health, welfare, disease prevention and traceability of farm animals, as well as laws relating to animal feeding stuffs.

“But you can’t just wander onto farms.

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"There has to be interaction with the farmers, and you don’t want to risk bringing infection in with you.

“I primarily respond to animal welfare complaints, so the majority of visits are unannounced.

“I investigate not only the complaint, but also the welfare of any other animals on the farm. Occasionally this involves other agencies; lots of people can be involved and if necessary, I obtain evidence for prosecution.”

Last week two brothers who allowed their sheep ‘significant suffering’ and who were caught operating an illegal ‘dead pit’ on their farm were handed a fine.

Oxford Magistrates’ Court heard how when inspectors visited the farm of James and Brynne Backhouse they found sheep with maggot-infested feet and animal carcases improperly disposed of.

Sentencing, presiding magistrate Lesley Anderson ordered that each men pay a fine of £8,600 as well as court costs of £4,400, and a £170 victim surcharge.

They were also disqualified from owning sheep for two years.