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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Sheep genes could save rare breeds
Lonk ram with child and 'Don't Zonk My Lonk' placard
Lonk breeders fear the animals could become extinct
A Lancashire farmer has called for government vets to widen their collection of gene samples to prevent rare sheep being wiped out by foot-and-mouth.

Robert Lister from Little Mearley Hall Farm, on Pendle Hill in the Ribble Valley, fears his Lonk rams are in danger of becoming extinct because of the disease.

"The breed is dwindling rapidly," he said.

"Already two Lonk breeders in West Bradford in the Ribble Valley have had about 480 Lonk culled.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,736 - four on 12 June
3,281,000 animals slaughtered
8,125 premises with animals slaughtered or earmarked for slaughter
"There were only about 10,000 breeding ewes to start with and we estimate 95% of them fall into a small geographical area."

Vets for the Heritage Gene Bank, at York University, have already taken samples from Mr Lister's flock and are due to visit other Lonk farms in Oldham, Greater Manchester.

The Heritage Gene Bank was set up in April to preserve and rebuild Britain's rare sheep breeds after foot-and-mouth.

Britain's sheep heritage

The ancient Lonk breed of mountain sheep is only found in Lancashire and Derbyshire.

The Lonk are thought to have once been farmed by the monks of Whalley and Sawley Abbey.

A Lonk
The Lonk breed is "dwindling rapidly"
The breed's name derives from the Lancashire word, "lanky".

The animal is outstandingly hardy, spending the winter on bleak moors in punishing conditions.

James Mylne, a vet on the Gene Bank programme, said: "Ironically, the Lonk's exceptional ability to thrive in the Uplands of Lancashire and West Yorkshire may be its undoing under the current threat of foot-and-mouth."

Chair of the Lonk Sheep Breeders Association, John Pickard, added: "We are very grateful to the Heritage Gene Bank for giving us the opportunity of an insurance policy should the worst happen.

"In the meantime, we are preparing appeal documentation in the event of the cull policy being implemented."

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12 Jun 01 | UK
Foot-and-mouth 'tail' fears
10 Mar 01 | Online 1000
Online 1000 Issues and Foot and mouth
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