Healthy free-roaming sheep, which have been a feature of open land in Gloucestershire for centuries, were rounded up for slaughter yesterday in an attempt to prevent the further spread of foot-and-mouth disease.
About 5,000 animals graze on 50 square kilometres of land in the Forest of Dean, under laws dating back hundreds of years. Their owners, known in the area as "badgers", have been told to round them all up for the cull, an operation expected to take four or five days.
The slaughter will follow a decision taken on Wednesday to kill the rare breeds at an animal adventure park in the same county, including llamas, Aberdeen Angus, American bison, and Britain's rarest breed, Gloucester cattle.
No action was initially taken to kill the Forest of Dean sheep because it was thought that sending "badgers" into the forest to round them up would create a greater risk of spreading the disease than the animals themselves. But when 20 farms in Gloucestershire were found to have been contaminated with foot-and-mouth, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) met representatives of the National Farmers' Union, trading standards, police in the county and councils to decide what action was appropriate.
At first, it was decided to restrict the animals to one part of the forest, but they have since been deemed a "dangerous contact".
A Maff spokeswoman said: "There is sufficient grounds to believe they may have come into contact with the disease,"
Farmers with healthy livestock welcomed the move. Tony Samuel, 48, has 300 sheep and 60 cattle on Badhamsfield Farm in Yorkley, Gloucestershire, which have not been threatened so far.
He said: "It's the right decision, it's the only course of action that could save my sheep. The free-roaming sheep have been on the roads and getting on other people's land and mixing with other sheep."Reuse content