A NEW animal disease which causes birth defects and miscarriages in livestock has been found on a farm in Hampshire.

The Schmallenberg virus has now been detected on 74 farms in England, according to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

It has identified one positive case in Hampshire in sheep and others in 12 other counties.

Among new cases, the AHVLA has confirmed one positive case on the Isle of Wight and others in Wiltshire, West Berkshire and Gloucestershire.

Five of the positive cases have been diagnosed in cattle, 69 in sheep, and none so far in other species.

Schmallenberg virus first arrived in the country in January and Kent, East Sussex, Norfolk and Suffolk are worst affected.

The disease, which causes mild to moderate symptoms in adult cattle, including reduced milk yield and diarrhoea, and late abortions and birth deformities in newborn sheep, goats and cattle, was first seen in the Netherlands and Germany last year.

It is thought the virus is spread by midges, and has crossed the Channel from the continent.

So far, none of the affected farms have reported importing animals during 2011 from the affected areas in mainland Europe.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ''As everyone connected with the livestock industry has been expecting, the number of cases of Schmallenberg has increased as lambing and calving begin to gather pace.

''As farmers, vets, and governments continue to gather information about the progress and effects of this disease, it's vital that farmers continue to report any suspicions they have as soon as possible.

''The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says it is unlikely Schmallenberg virus would cause disease in humans.''