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Community / Couple say things have improved after investigations into alleged animal cruelty on Fetlar croft land

A FAMILY in Fetlar have defended themselves against allegations of animal cruelty and neglect of livestock.

The Bellis family, who moved to Fetlar in 2016 after purchasing a number of properties and pieces of land, said “all issues have been addressed and completely resolved”.

The Scottish Government, Shetland Islands Council and the SSPCA have all been involved in investigations over the allegations, which mainly related to the care of sheep.

A more recent image of sheep on one of the Bellis’ crofts.

The Bellis family, however, said in response that they have acted on recommendations given out by environmental health officers in early March with regards to animal welfare.

They also said that with more experienced shepherds now working on their croft land following a change in staff, things are improving with livestock currently in “excellent condition”.

Shetland Islands Council’s environmental health team leader David Robertson said: “We can confirm that the council is currently investigating animal welfare issues on Fetlar.

“At this time however the council is not in a position to disclose any further details in relation to this investigation.”

Neil Bellis and his wife Juliet Bellis, along with her sister Lucy Cummings, have 15 crofts in Fetlar which total 844 acres of land.

They also own the shop and post office, and run a B&B/guesthouse.

Juliet Bellis said they began to have concerns over their previous stockman at the end of last year, but attempts to recruit a replacement initially failed.

She said their stockman told them that in January there had been an “outbreak of pneumonia within part of our flock of sheep, exacerbated by the unusually wet winter”.

Bellis said they received a visit from the SSCPA at the end of January following a complaint from an islander over fallen stock and the condition of a Shetland pony, but “nothing wrong” was found.

She added that environmental health officers then visited in late February and early March, and concerns over the disposal of fallen stock were “immediately addressed”.

“The second [visit] was in connection with some animal welfare concerns about which the vet gave detailed and practical guidance as to how these issues could be addressed,” Bellis said.

She also said that due to the situation with coronavirus the environmental health staff member has been unable to return to Fetlar for checks.

“Both we and the stockmen have kept him informed of progress with photographic and video evidence”, Bellis added, claiming that the officer has “confirmed that both his and the vet’s requirements have been satisfied”.

The Bellis family also point to the investment and employment opportunities they have put into Fetlar, as well as improvements they say they have made to their farm infrastructure buildings.