Thursday, March 5, 2009

Regional sheep 'more vulnerable' in Scotland and England

Regional sheep 'more vulnerable'

Sheep such as the Herdwicks are thought to be particularly at risk

A new survey claims regional breeds of sheep face a heightened risk of disease because of their tendency to remain together in one location.

The Sheep Trust report said it showed the need to protect many of the UK's commercially-farmed native breeds.

The study included breeds such as Lake District Herdwicks, South Country Cheviots in the Borders and South Wales Mountain sheep in the Rhondda Valley.

It said such concentration in one place increased vulnerability to disease.

Herdwicks are thought to have arrived in the Lake District with the Vikings.

Today, 95% of these sheep - some 50,000 animals - are still found within about 15 miles of Coniston.

Similarly 95% of the South Wales Mountain breed is less than 17 miles from the coal fields of the Rhondda Valley.

The South Country Cheviot also remains concentrated in the Cheviot Hills of the Scottish Borders.

Clearly vulnerable

Sheep Trust vet Amanda Carson said: "Such an intense degree of localisation makes these breeds vulnerable to devastating losses from major disease outbreaks such as those caused by foot-and-mouth (FMD) or blue-tongue viruses (BTV).

"In 2001, I saw FMD destroy huge numbers of Herdwicks, South Country Cheviot and Rough Fell sheep in Cumbria and now we can see just how dangerous this was for the breed.

"We can also see that the same risk is there for other breeds."

Prof Dianna Bowles, founder and chairman of the trust, said it was clear action needed to be taken.

She said: "We are strongly recommending that new measures are put in place to protect these important genetic resources now that their vulnerability has been so clearly demonstrated."

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