Rare Badger Face Torwen sheep placed on the Rare Breed Survival Trust Watchlist after big decline in numbers

The rare Badger Face Torwen, a Welsh Mountain Sheep breed whose numbers have declined nearly 30 per cent since 2013, has been added to this year’s Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) Watchlist.

Numbers of the Torwen sheep are in decline.

The Watchlist, which the conservation charity produces annually, monitors the UK’s rarest native livestock and equine breeds. The addition of the Torwen – which means white belly – means the breed will now benefit from focused RBST support to help its revival.

Torwen sheep, have a black face with white facial markings, black fleece and the white belly which gives the breed its name. Their markings are the reverse of the Badger Face Torddu breed.

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RBST chief executive, Christopher Price, said: “The distinctive markings of Torddu and Torwen Badger Face Sheep have been a feature of the Welsh Mountains for centuries but with numbers dwindling, action is needed to prevent Torwens from disappearing.

“Not only are these sheep an irreplaceable part of our national heritage but, as hardy native breeds that produce delicious meat, both the Badger Face Sheep breeds should play an important role in Government’s post-Brexit vision of a sustainable future for farming that works in harmony with the natural environment.”

Just 491 Badger Face Torwen breeding females were registered in 2019, down from 681 in 2013. Brian Eagles, past chairman of the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society, has kept Torwens for more than 20 years.

“Torwens are very useful on farms and smallholdings alike thanks to their hardy nature, medium size and excellent mothering,” he said.

“They are good for crossing, popular in meat boxes and ideal for conservation grazing work, but they are not as well-known as their Torddu cousins.

“I’m thrilled that their addition to the RBST Watchlist will encourage more smallholders and farmers to keep them and will enable more promotion of the breed at agricultural shows.

“Working with the RBST on focused conservation programmes will give this fantastic breed a better chance of survival long into the future.”

Torwen and Torddu have previously been categorised as one breed but the Badger Face Mountain Sheep Society traced evidence showing the two breeds have long been bred separately, with a genetic history and inherited characteristics that “clearly distinguish” the two breeds.

With breeding numbers having increased significantly, the Torddu is no longer categorised as rare but Torwen numbers are lower.