David Black qualified as a vet in Edinburgh and bought a veterinary practice 

in Dalston in 1994. Paragon Veterinary Group now has 27 vets, small 

animal, equine, large animal and advanced breeding departments and 

centres in Dalston, Wetheral and Newbiggin near Penrith. David was 

also a pioneer of IVF in cattle in the UK.  


"Responding to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 was not a 

big break exactly but it was career defining for me. The recovery 

afterwards changed me and Paragon profoundly. 

"We were the worst hit veterinary practice in the UK. Eighty-five per 

cent of the animals we were looking after were culled. We had 14 vets 

and we went down to three, with the rest working for what is now 

Defra. Some were culling, some doing surveillance, some doing blood 


"At first, we assumed that the state veterinary service would kick into 

gear but then we realised nothing was happening. There was carnage 

all around us, but the Chief Vet and the Prime Minister Tony Blair 

were saying everything was fine. We had a practice meeting and 

decided we should speak out. Over the next few days, I was 

interviewed by several TV stations and news outlets. From then on, I 

built my confidence to go on mainstream media and tell people what 

was really happening. 

"I hadn’t seen it as my place to speak out before that. But I felt there 

was a community message. I made an effort to speak to every client 

who went down and tried to support them. It wasn’t just dealing with 

sick animals it was a whole community that was affected. I 

understood that farm vets are part of that community, and the 

community was in trouble, and we had to step up and do our best to 


"I was invited by the NFU in Carlisle to be part of their emergency 

response team during the epidemic. And afterwards there were three 

big official government inquiries, and I was asked to sit on one – the 

Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases in Livestock 2002 

chaired by Sir Brian Follet. I ended up spending a lot of time working 

on this and going round the country with Sir Brian talking to affected 


"Being the only practising vet on the inquiry and being able to 

represent Cumbrian and UK famers and the profession, was an 

opportunity for me to step up. It hugely changed me personally. It 

gave me confidence in my ability to communicate, to be able to meet 

with senior people in government and be listened to, while not 

forgetting my roots as a practising farm vet. 

We tried to be very positive during and after the outbreak and to rebuild the 

practice. We helped our clients restock, even going to Denmark and 

Germany to find replacement cattle. I remain immensely proud of the 

way the practice responded. We came out of it with our heads up and 

gained new clients. We didn’t make any staff redundant – that was 

one of the things we set out at the start; we said we are not going to 

lose anyone. 

"In the years that followed my career developed. I have more roles 

where I speak to wider audiences, often travelling abroad, and I have 

focussed on the wider role and contribution of vets in society. 

"In 2005 I helped start XLVets, a network of independent veterinary 

practices. I co-founded Vet Salus, which is a global network of vets 

working with food producers to improve animal health, welfare and 

sustainability. And I have helped to develop Vet Sustain, which is a 

not-for-profit community interest company enabling vets to have an 

impact on sustainability.