19 March 2001
Breed may be driven to extinction

By Jonathan Riley and Johann Tasker

THE mass cull of thousands of healthy livestock to control foot-and-mouth disease threatens to drive at least one of Britains sheep breeds to extinction.

Jim Robertson, president of the South Country Cheviot breed society, said the cull could wipe out the breed, his lifes work and centuries of farming tradition.

Mr Robertson is the fifth generation of his family to run Cheviot ewes on hills near Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

His prize-winning flock of 1200 pedigree South Country Cheviots is the culmination of 21 years of work and part of a 100-year-old family tradition.

The familys hill farm is now within a 3km culling zone and all of his animals must be slaughtered, even though they have no symptoms of the disease.

“When I heard governments announcement I just thought My God, thats us,” Mr Robertson told FARMERS WEEKLY.

“Then it sunk in that the cordon took in eight of the breeds top tup breeders and 14 units running Cheviots on the hills nearby.”

Mr Robertson fears that the breed will never recover if the sheep are culled.

His flock is hefted – bred so specifically that they instinctively remain within the farms boundary and know where to find shelter in bad weather.

“Someone told me we would be compensated. But no amount of money could buy these animals or the history behind them. They are unique and irreplaceable.”

Rosemay Mansbridge, chief executive of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, told FARMERS WEEKLY that the implications of the cull were frightening.

Mrs Mansbridge said trust officials totally supported the governments policy of trying to contain the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

But she added: “Many of our breeds are on a knife-edge in terms of numbers.”

The trusts “most-critical” list, which details breeds with fewer than 300 breeding females, include the Castlemilk Moorit and the Boreray.

“At the moment, the South Country Cheviot is not on the list, but that does not mean we arent extremely concerned,” said Mrs Mansbridge.

Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage