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FOOT & MOUTH CRISIS: Bid to bring rare breeds back from dead.

Byline: Caroline Wheeler

RARE BREED... wiltshire horn gets a scrub down

EMERGENCY plans have been drawn up to bring pedigree farm animals wiped out by the foot-and-mouth slaughters 'back from the dead'.

The Sunday Mercury has learned that Midland scientists have frozen the semen of scores of rare livestock breeds.

Farmers across the country have been increasingly concerned about the survival of some breeds - including Gloucester Cattle and British Lop Pigs - which are on the brink of extinction.

But the Sunday Mercury can reveal that such endangered animals will be brought back to life by scientists if the worst happens and they are all killed.

Richard Lutwyche, publicity manager of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, said there are units across the country which have stores of frozen semen from all rare breeds of cattle and pigs. 'If the worst comes to the worst and we lose all our rare breeds, then we have got a back-up plan,' he said.

'We have built up a bank of frozen semen from pigs and cattle which we can use again for breeding if all the existing ones die out.

'But there is nothing we can do to save rare breeds of sheep.

Freezing

'At the moment, we have no way of freezing their sperm so if they have to be culled, they will die out forever.'

Since the foot-and-mouth crisis began last month, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has commissioned scientists in Scotland to develop a way of freezing sheep semen.

But time is running out for Castlemilk Mowit sheep and Teeswater sheep, which are rapidly disappearing as the culls continue in a desperate attempt to try to stamp out the disease.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is calling on the Government to introduce immediate measures to help protect rare breeds from imminent slaughter.

Mr Lutwyche said: 'Rather than rely on our semen banks, we would much rather the Government introduced a policy to protect rare breeds before they are killed.

'We understand that if the animals are found to be infected with foot-and-mouth disease then they will have to be destroyed but we want those who are healthy to be saved - even if they are 'dangerous contact'.

'The Welsh Assembly has already made provision for rare breed farmers in Wales.

'And we are now making strong representations to Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) to request a degree of protection for our rare breeds but we haven't had confirmation of that yet.'

MAFF officials said the Government was in the process of drawing up a set of new regulations to cover rare breeds.

A spokesman for MAFF said: 'We are aware of the problem and we do want to protect the pool of genetic pedigree animals that we have in this country.

'Those animals who are infected will have to be destroyed but we are drawing up a list of proposals at the moment with the help of our chief veterinary officer Jim Scudmore to find ways to protect rare breeds.'

But farmers fear the Government is doing too little too late to help save Britain's rare animals.

On Wednesday, apparently healthy animals at Cattle Country adventure park in Berkeley, Gloucester, were killed and burned along with exotic cattle including Britain's rarest bovine breed - Gloucester Cattle.

Other rare breeds to have been destroyed include herds of Chillingham Cattle, Wiltshire Horn Sheep, British Lop Pigs, Wensleydale Sheep, Large Black Pigs and Gloucestershire Old Spots Pigs.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 1, 2001
Words:577
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