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New plan for survival of rare breeds

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is compiling a sperm bank to ensure the future of British equine breeds

A top UK equine artificial insemination centre has joined forces with the Rare BreedsSurvival Trust (RBST) to establish a sperm bank, which will ensure the future survival of Britain’s most threatened native breeds of horse and pony.

Jane Holderness-Roddam’s West Kington Stud, Wilts, which pioneered the use of AI in the UK, has already collected semen from two of the 11 breeds listed on the RBST’s books – the Suffolk Punch, which is on the critical list, and the Dartmoor, which is described as vulnerable.

“Of the stallions we collect semen from for evaluation, only one in every five or six will be suitable for freezing and adding to the RBST’s gene pool,” explains West Kington Stud manager, Tessa Clarke.

“We are planning to freeze semen from at least 20 stallions acrossthe RBST’s 11 listed breeds which means more than 100 stallions will have to be evaluated.”

Preliminary collections have already taken place at the Colony Suffolk Stud at Hollesley Bay Penal Centre, Suffolk and Elizabeth Newbolt-Young’s highly successful Shilstone Rocks Dartmoor Stud at Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon during the last month.

Semen will also be collected from other rare breeds, including Cleveland Bay, Eriskay, Exmoor, Fell, Highland, Clydesdale and Irish Draught in the future.

Safeguarding rare breeds

The new initiative is part of the RBST “ReGENEration Bank” programme, launched last year at the height of the FMD crisis, which plans to store sufficient breeding material to prevent a major disease outbreak from posing a threat to rare British breeds of livestock.

“It was only when the FMD crisis occurred that we realised we had no contingency plan to ensure the continuation of some of Britain’s rarest breeds of livestock,” Richard Lutwyche of the RBST told Horse & Hound Online.

“In particular we had nothing in store for sheep or horses. Although horses were not under threat by the FMD outbreak, we are aware that outbreaks of other diseases in the future could threaten rare British equine breeds.

“We are delighted that West Kington Stud is helping us. Of the semen suitable for freezing, 55% will be kept in storage for conservation purposes, while 30% will be available for use by current breeders, and 15% will be returned to the stallion’s owner. In this scheme everybody benefits.”

The RBST launched an appeal last July to help cover the costs of collecting and storing the semen. The charity aims to raise a total of £2.5million, but to date has only raised £750,000.

If you would like to make a donation, or find out more about the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s work, visit www.rare-breeds.com

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