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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"The future of rare breeds was looking good until foot-and-mouth struck"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 03:18 GMT 04:18 UK
Rare breeds to get gene 'library'
Rare breed BBC
Endangered breeds have lost significant numbers
Rare British livestock threatened by the foot-and-mouth crisis will be protected by a gene bank.

Pigs BBC
The bank will protect the future of Gloucester Old Spot pigs
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) has set up a 2.5m international appeal to help fund the centre, which will store reproductive material from animals that do not exist anywhere else in the world.

The trust says the destruction of infected animals and contiguous culls during the foot-and-mouth outbreak has forced breed numbers down to record lows.

Endangered breeds include Gloucester Old Spot pigs, Shetland sheep and Beef Shorthorn cattle.

The National ReGENEration Bank would be an insurance policy to protect these traditional farm animals from future disease outbreaks, such e-coli, salmonella, and swine fever, according to the Trust. It is likely to be sited in the Coventry area.

Animal retreat

"We have to make sure that we hold sufficient genetic material to ensure that when the next farming crisis hits, we shall not lose any of the 63 unique breeds that the charity looks after," said RBST chief executive Rosemary Mansbridge.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,807 - four on 2 July
3,453,000 animals slaughtered
14,000 animals awaiting slaughter
16,000 carcasses awaiting disposal
Trust vice president Joe Henson told the BBC: "We've got to put these animals into deep freeze - semen, eggs and embryos. Bull semen is very well established. The trust has already got a collection that we use regularly for people who have got just one or two cows."

Amongst the breeds hardest hit by foot-and-mouth is the Whitefaced Woodland sheep. Numbers were approaching 500 breeding females six months ago. Now, some 20% of the breed have been destroyed in the Pennines and west Yorkshire.

Fifty years ago, there were thousands of Beef Shorthorn. Today, the breed is only found in Scotland and north Yorkshire - at least 12% of the population has been wiped out in the past few months.

Other rare breeds in crisis include:

  • Vaymol - there are only 21 cows left;
  • Boreray sheep - 60 ewes remain;
  • British Lop pig - there are 200 breeding females;
  • Irish Moiled cattle - down to 229 cows,
  • Castlemilk Moorit sheep - no more than 350 ewes.
'Insurance policy'

Some samples have already been collected for the project from a flock of Lonk rams.

"The breed is dwindling rapidly," Robert Lister, from Little Mearley Hall Farm, on Pendle Hill in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire, said. "Already, two Lonk breeders in West Bradford in the Ribble Valley have had about 480 Lonk culled.

A Lonk
The Lonk breed is "dwindling rapidly"
"There were only about 10,000 breeding ewes to start with and we estimate 95% of them fall into a small geographical area."

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. The breed's name derives from the Lancashire word "lanky".

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

Updated bank

If the trust successfully raises the 2.5m needed for the project, a quarter of the money will be used straight away to increase the collection of genetic material to ensure the future of rare breeds of horses, goats, cattle, sheep and poultry.

The trust's Richard Lutwyche told BBC News Online that recent developments in cryogenic technology meant the establishment of the bank was now a viable project.

"It's only recently been possible in sheep and its well established in cattle breeding and it's getting better in pigs - so, yes, the technology is there.

"And we're not going to just put it away and leave it. We're going to keep recycling it and using it with existing breeders. We'll then take semen and other material from the offspring and put that back into the bank."

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See also:

02 Jul 01 | Business
Farm disease reaps bankruptcy toll
12 Jun 01 | UK
Foot-and-mouth 'tail' fears
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