The National Sheep Association and Rare Breed Survival Trust strongly believes the UK sheep sector needs a gene bank to hold semen and other genetic resources to protect all sheep breeds in the event of a disease outbreak or similar disaster where huge numbers of animals were lost. It is the responsibility of the UK Government to fund this resource, working in partnership with industry to identify and collect appropriate genetic resources and update them regularly.

NSA and RBST is aware some gene banks already exist, but none are representative of the whole UK sheep sector. One example is the Ovine Semen Archive (OSA), which was formed by NSA and RBST in 2009 to manage semen that was originally collected by Defra as part of the National Scrapie Plan (NSP). The semen contained was collected solely in response to the scrapie situation more than 20 years ago and, therefore, the genetics stored are not a true representation of any individual sheep breed. In addition, the store has not been updated at any point since its creation.

However, in lieu of there being a representative and active gene bank, NSA and RBST have agreed to continue to maintain the archive until a suitable replacement can be created. This is in recognition that having some semen in store, albeit not always the most appropriate, is better than having nothing at all. The cost of maintaining the archive is currently shared by the National Sheep Association and Rare Breed Survival Trust – and steps are currently being taken to streamline running costs. As part of this process, volumes of semen from specific rams will be reduced.

  • Where sheep breeds are represented in OSA, the appropriate sheep breed society was contacted in November 2020, with a deadline of Monday 8th January 2021 to reply. NSA and RBST are working with the breed societies who replied to make joint decisions on rationalisation.
  • If you contributed to the NSP and claimed an owners’ share of 10% when the semen was transferred from NSP to OSA, you should have received a letter in February 2021, with a deadline of 31st March 2021 to reply. If you did not receive a letter and think you should have done, please email tomblunt@rbst.org.uk.
  • Breeds are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis with all 69 breeds due to have been reviewed by December 2021.
  • Once all breeds have been reviewed, semen no longer required by OSA will be released to the industry. NSA and RBST is not anticipating charging for straws, but anyone wishing to obtain them will have to cover the cost of transferring them to a different storage facility. An update will be provided in late 2021 on the process of obtaining straws, but if you have an interest in specific rams, please email tomblunt@rbst.org.uk.
Ovine Semen Archive