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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 12:57 GMT
Rare breeds 'could be lost'
Moira Linaker
Moira Linaker fears losing her rare Ryeland sheep
By BBC News Online's Matt Maclean

Rare species of sheep could be endangered by the government's policy of slaughtering healthy animals close to infected sites, some farmers fear.

Uninfected sheep within 3km of foot-and-mouth outbreaks in Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway are due to be slaughtered in a pre-emptive move to contain the disease.

But the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been asked to exempt rare breeds from this policy.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust charity wants rare breeds in suspect areas to be isolated and inspected by vets, to prevent unnecessary slaughter and safeguard rare blood lines.

I would like to have seen mass vaccination, like they have done in other countries

Moira Linaker
Rare sheep breeder
Moira Linaker, 60, who keeps rare Ryeland sheep on her farm near Warwick Bridge, Cumbria, said she was waiting for a letter from Maff condemning her sheep.

Although her flock is not infected, outbreaks have been confirmed within a few miles of her smallholding.

"It is just dreadful," she said. "It is a case of listening to the news bulletins to see where the latest cases are."

She said the Ryeland sheep, which is prized for its thick wool and has been bred in this country "since the Dark Ages", is bred only by a number of smallholders such as herself.

Compensation 'inadequate'

Mrs Linaker, who was building up her stocks and has two rams which she shows, said she could "not afford" to start again if her flock was culled.

"The money they give you is the same regardless of the type of sheep, 40-50, and does not consider the 7-8 years' breeding I would have got from them."

Every loss is a loss of genetic material in that breed

Rosemary Mansfield
Rare Breeds Survival Trust
She added: "I would like to have seen mass vaccination, like they have done in other countries.

"In France they had one outbreak, they vaccinated and they stopped it."

Rosemary Mansfield, chief executive of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, said they were negotiating with Maff to safeguard rare breeds.

"There are about 70-80 flocks of rare and minority breeds of sheep at risk," she said.

"We have been extremely lucky so far in that we have had no more than half a dozen flocks lost.

"A crumb of comfort for us is that, by their very nature these flocks tend to be small and well dispersed."

She said she hoped that Maff would consider isolating rare breeds instead of slaughtering them, but added: "We have to accept that Maff has responsibility for controlling, managing and overcoming this epidemic."

These breeds are adapted to their particular environment

Andrew Humphries
Herdwick Breeders' Association
She added that, with at-risk species having from 1,500 to as few as 150 breeding females in total, "every loss is a loss of genetic material in that breed".

Steve Heaton, regional director for NFU Northwest, said he hoped the ministry would accept an arrangement allowing rare breeds in culling areas to be "spared, put under surveillance and blood tested".

But he added that any animals developing the disease would have to be slaughtered.

Adapted to environment

One sheep species at risk is the Herdwick. Also known as Royal Mutton, it was served at the Queen's coronation and wedding and is mainly found in the Lake District.

Andrew Humphries, a consultant to the Herdwick Breeders' Association, said foot-and-mouth was "not far away" from Herdwick areas and could devastate the breed.

"These breeds are adapted to their particular environment," he said.

"The Herdwick has evolved there over the past 1,000 years. If that went, what would you put in its place that would function in the environment?"

He said additional stocks of vulnerable breeds should be kept outside their natural habitats, and that genetic samples should be taken and stored for future use.

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