A new scheme to help preserve the iconic Herdwick sheep breed has been launched in Cumbria.
The Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association, The Herdy Company and Newton Rigg College have joined forces with a mission to complete the breed’s gene bank which was started during the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic by The Sheep Trust.
Six pure bred ewes from fell farms across the county have been brought to Sewborwens Farm at Newton Rigg College where their embryos will be collected and monitored as part of an eight-week programme.
These will then be frozen and stored in The Sheep Trust Heritage Gene Bank Archive along with fertilised eggs and semen collected by the charity 15 years ago.
Amanda Carson, secretary of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association said: “The importance of this initiative cannot be over-estimated as we work to extend the Herdwick Gene Bank with good examples of the breed from proper fell going sheep.
“Our aim is to ensure the protection of the breed should a future catastrophe occur, such as Foot and Mouth, where numbers are either reduced or wiped out. Although there are Herdwicks elsewhere in the country, these sheep are locally adapted to the breed’s home county and represent the most characteristic fell type. The Herdwick Heritage Gene Bank Project is an insurance to ensure the breed’s longevity and protection.”
2016 is the Herdwicks’ centenary year and while sheep numbers are not under threat – there are about 50,000 in the UK – it is hoped the project will encourage gene banks to be established for other breeds.
The project is being sponsored by The Herdy Company.
At the end of the eight-week project, the sheep will be returned to their farms.