A new five year conservation programme has been launched to help reverse the decline of the Longwool sheep breeds native to the UK.
Six of the nine native UK Longwool sheep breeds were classified as 'vulnerable' or 'at risk' according to the latest Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist.
While Greyface Dartmoors and Border Leicesters have seen positive growth in their numbers, other breeds such as Lincoln Longwool and Leicester Longwool have declined in number.
There were just 251 Lincoln Longwool breeding females registered in 2019.
RBST Chief Executive Christopher Price said the breeds made a 'huge contribution' to rural communities when the UK wool trade was booming and it would be 'devastating' if they were to disappear.
“Longwool sheep are striking animals thanks to features such as long fleeces and pricked ears," he said.
"Their grazing encourages biodiversity on farms and their tasty meat and natural wool offer good commercial opportunities for their keepers."
In general, the Longwool breeds have seen a steady decline and some of the breeds now have very low numbers.
But the RBST explained that it is not too late to secure their future, which is why the new Love a Longwool campaign has been launched.
As part of the new conservation programme, the charity will work with breed societies to increase the diversity within each breed, making the Longwools more resilient.
The programme will work to limit inbreeding in each of the Longwool breeds through bespoke breeding programmes and employ conservation techniques to safeguard each of the breeds for the next generations.
The campaign will also improve the breeds’ chances of survival by promoting their uses for fibre, meat and conservation grazing, which encourages biodiversity and the regeneration of habitats.
The nine Longwool sheep breeds are Border Leicester, Cotswold, Devon & Cornwall Longwool, Greyface Dartmoor, Leicester Longwool, Lincoln Longwool, Teeswater, Wensleydale and Whiteface Dartmoor.