Sustainabilty of the breed requires a sound base of quality genetic diversity. The gene pool is currently broad-based – overall there is a large number of animals in the breed, the number of breeders of purebred tups continues to be strong and the effective population size is sufficient to protect the breed against in-breeding.
However, the Herdwicks are endangered because they are highly concentrated in only one region of the UK. More than 95% of the entire breed – some 50 000 animals - is found within 23km of the breed centre at Conistone in the Lake District. Please find out more about the risks facing these geographically concentrated sheep breeds that are locally adapted to a single region, through visiting the website at www.thesheeptrust.org.
The only way to ensure survival of large numbers of Herdwicks is to ensure a market for lamb meat, but also for all the many thousands of mature Herdwick ewes as they reach 4 or 5 years old and are drafted off from the high Cumbrian fells to less demanding environments. Their qualities of motherliness and hardiness means that these highly experienced ewes will easily continue to produce and rear lambs for at least another 5 years – but in softer going in the grassy fields of the lowlands. Their ability to produce the highest quality of crossbred fat lambs when they are put to terminal sires – is now being recognized. These qualities need to be recognized widely if the full potential of the Herdwick breed is to be realized and used for protecting our national food security.
As a breeder of Herdwicks, I am committed to helping sustain their genetic well-being - breeding high quality, strong animals with important and useful attributes of health and behaviour. I sell breeding females, rams and also fat lambs - those male lambs of insufficient quality for using as rams. All Herdwick breeders have a responsibility to maintain the special qualities of the animals and their products to ensure the markets will always want them and thereby ensure the breed's future.
Current numbers of Herdwicks in the UK exceed 50 000. The only way to ensure continuing success, sustainability and large numbers for the breed is to ensure there are markets – for breeding animals and for their meat and wool products.