The National Sheep Association and Rare Breeds 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 thoroughly reviewed or added to 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 Breeds Survival Trust – and steps are being taken to streamline running costs.

  • Where sheep breeds are represented in OSA, the appropriate sheep breed society was contacted in November 2020, with a deadline of early January to express an interest in working with NSA and RBST to rationalise OSA.
  • Individual breeders who contributed to the NSP and claimed an owners’ share of 10% when the semen was transferred from NSP to OSA were contacted in February 2021 with a deadline of April 2021 to reply. Those who replied have been provided with information to withdraw their owners’ share from OSA. The deadline has now passed for this and all unclaimed owners’ shares have been absorbed into OSA.
  • As of early June 2022, all breeds in OSA have been dealt with on a case-by-case basis (working in partnership with breed societies where they expressed an interest to do so). Up to 25 rams and 50 straws of semen per ram have been identified to be kept (in line with internationally recognised protocols). All other straws will be destroyed (scrapie susceptible genetics) or released to the industry.
  • Lists have been created by breed of rams with semen earmarked for release. These have been sent to the relevant breed society and are available to download below. Any individual can apply for semen to be transferred into their ownership, using the OSA release form. Release forms will be processed on a first-come first-served basis. Please refer to the guidelines and administration fees included on the form - including the recommendation to check with the breed society that any progeny will be eligible for pedigree registration. Invoices for administration fees will be raised by NSA once a release form has been accepted. Release forms must be received before Monday 1st August 2022; forms received after this date will not be accepted.
  • For any questions, please contact Tom Blunt at RBST (tomblunt@rbst.org.uk) or Joanne Briggs at NSA (joanne@nationalsheep.org.uk).

Download the OSA release form.

Download the list of available rams.

Ovine Semen Archive