A new report focusing on the conservation and promotion of Irish heritage breeds has been by published by Fingal County Council and the NPWS today, suggesting that native Irish breeds are at severe risk unless steps are taken to address a number of issues threatening their very survival.
The study - the first of its kind in Ireland - calls for the creation of a National Rare Breeds Secretariat and the development of a 10-year national strategy for native Irish rare breeds to help ensure they do not become an imperilled species. It was launched to coincide with the presentation by Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien of seven rare Cladoir sheep from Connemara National Park to Newbridge House & Farm. This breed was, until recently, thought to be extinct.
Native breeds play a vital role in providing essential land management, as is evident by the regeneration of Howth Head where Old Irish goats have been introduced. Such rare breeds are also a uniquely distinctive part of Ireland’s rural heritage, with very few people in Ireland familiar with their potential which could in itself determine the survival or otherwise of many of the country’s most endangered breeds.
Some of the key recommendations in the report include:
Newbridge House & Farm to become Ireland’s first are breeds hub and a model outreach centre for native rare breeds and a source for rare breed genetics;
Enhancing the visitor experience within Connemara National Park to help protect and promote rare breeds, including the creation of an outdoor trail with discovery points for greater immersive interaction and education;
Establish a centre for rare breeds research and conservation in a commercial setting to help put them on foot with other commercial breeds;
Creation of a National Rare Breeds Secretariat with a full-time general manager to oversee the delivery and development of a 10-year national strategy for native Irish rare breeds.
The report suggests that undertaking a number of steps in both the short and longer-term will help make a significant impact to bring sustainability for those breeds under threat. It says that on the back of similar identifiable interventions elsewhere in the world, accomplishing an Irish rare breed renaissance is possible.
Mayor of Fingal, Cllr Howard Mahony said: “This report clearly shows that Newbridge Farm is well positioned to promote rare breeds and how they can be incorporated in the visitor experience at the farm. As we have seen with the likes of Old Irish Goats on Howth Head, Irish heritage breeds can truly help protect the countryside we love, so in sustaining their future we hope that people might see the opportunities these unique breeds offer.”
Minister O’Brien commended the work that is being done in relation to heritage breeds and, presenting a gift of Cladoir Sheep from Connemara National Park to Newbridge Farm, he highlighted the importance of cooperation between the two sites:
“As a token of that spirit of cooperation, I am delighted, along with my NPWS colleagues, to present Newbridge Farm with these wonderful Cladoir sheep from Connemara National Park. They will form a key part of the breeding programme for the conservation of the breed. I believe the importance of these Irish heritage breeds spans well beyond science and agriculture. They are part of Ireland’s rich history, culture and folklore and I am committed to working together to protect that heritage.”
In bringing the study together, consultation took place with Irish Rare Breed Societies, their international counterparts and various international associations located within Europe. The report underlines the reliance on volunteerism, intergenerational knowledge and individual famer passion for largely keeping the whole enterprise alive. As such, the sectors capacity will need to grow, particularly if Ireland is to achieve a balance between protecting heritage breeds whilst at the same time tapping into an opportunity to maximise their commercialisation both locally and internationally.
With the report identifying how major attractions such as Newbridge Farm and Connemara National Park could grow by offering rare breeds at the heart of their offering, Chief Executive of Fingal County Council, AnnMarie Farrelly said: “We have an opportunity here to help ensure that Irish rare breeds can become a protected and much valued resource. These distinctive animals are a part of the country’s rich heritage and unique biodiversity that should not be lost to future generations, so anything that can be done to sustain their existence is to be welcomed.”