Life goes on through gene bank after foot and mouth
Last updated at 20:52, Thursday, 17 February 2011
A decade after foot and mouth disease ravaged Cumbria, ewes in Lorton are pregnant by sheep slaughtered during the outbreak.
A small flock of 12 Herdwick sheep will be born in April.
Andrew Nicholson, 39, of Swinside End Farm at Lorton, lost 400 Herdwicks from his prize-winning flock during the outbreak, which started exactly 10 years ago, and was told he could save just 40 of his flock.
He said: “It was like choosing which family members you are going to take with you and which you are not.”
However, life goes on – and five of his ewes have been inseminated with sperm from rams that he lost.
He said: “I will be so pleased to see them and I hope they grow into good sheep.
“When we were losing our sheep we thought hard about what we could do to save the breed so we set up the Heritage Gene Bank.”
The move came amid fears that one of Britain’s most important breeds could be culled to extinction.
At the height of the 2001 crisis Mr Nicholson made a desperate call to Dianna Bowles, a scientist at the University of York and an amateur sheep breeder.
Within weeks she had raised money and mobilised a team of vets and farmers to collect and freeze sperm and embryos from vulnerable Herdwick sheep.
This led to the first sheep gene bank in the UK and the foundation of The Sheep Trust, a national charity set up to protect species like the Herdwick.
While not rare – there are around 60,000 Herdwicks – 95 per cent of the breed is found in Cumbria, which makes them massively vulnerable to disease.
Professor Bowles said: “The Herdwick breed faces a much brighter future.”
A Herdwick ram, or tup, can be worth tens of thousands of pounds.
A hardy breed, Herdwicks are ideally adapted to the Lake District and are thought to have been bred here for about 1,000 years.
First published at 19:42, Thursday, 17 February 2011
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
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