Fierce criticism has been directed at the Scottish government over imminent plans to sell its rare and unique herd of Shetland cattle.
The government’s decision to off-load its Knocknagael herd – one of only four bloodlines in the entire breed – has been described as “unbelievably crass”.
Chairwoman of the Scottish Crofting Foundation Eleanor Arthur, who crofts in Whalsay, said the move had been badly handled and rushed.
The nine cattle are due to appear at the Dingwall marts next week.
That leaves the Shetland Cattle Herd Book Society (SCHBS) – effectively guardians of the breed – with little time to respond to the move.
“The breed has fought its way back from the very brink of extinction, and this is a particularly cruel blow as there are only four bloodlines in the entire breed,” said Mrs Arthur.
“If these animals are lost then the chances of retaining their irreplaceable genetics have gone forever.
“The Scottish government’s move to dump the herd on the market without adequate warning to the SCHBS … is unbelievably crass.”
She described as ironic the government’s decision to “quietly sell off the longest-established herd of this breed in existence” in the same week that SCHBS celebrated its centenary.
“We have written to the minister asking for her to reverse the decision.”
The Knocknagael herd was established by the former Department of Agriculture to safeguard the future of Shetland kye.
The move was made necessary by dwindling numbers of the breed to dangerously low levels.
The breed is classified as “at risk”. Crofters belonging to SCHBS have maintained small herds in order to boost numbers.
Chairman of the society and SIC councillor Addie Doull said he had been given insufficient notice of the sale.
“There have been several occasions when government accountants have tried to get rid of the herd in the name of ‘efficiency’ and numerous attempts have been made by SCHBS to assist the Scottish government to save the nine remaining cows from being lost. These efforts appear to have been disregarded,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the current political climate seems to have provided an opportunity for Scottish ministers to deal the fatal blow.
“The cows have been entered in the Dingwall Mart sale taking place next week without any consultation with the SCHBS crofters.
“The first we heard was today [Tuesday] when we got a letter informing us of their decision.
“A week is not long enough for us to do anything about it and, as the kye have no veterinary-established health and fertility status, the likelihood is that they will go into the abattoir as cast-cows.
“The SCHBS is part way through a breed development plan which, it has been hoped, would make best use of existing genetics.
“The loss of one of only four bloodlines will prove a huge setback. Why does the government wish to do this to a group of crofters who have only sought to save their own native kye for future generations?”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott denounced the sudden and rushed sale.
“Ministers must stop the sale and sit down with the Crofting Federation and the Shetland Cattle Herd Book Society to agree the best way forward for these cattle.
“To sell off this herd, with the high risk of losing the bloodline, is highly irresponsible.
“It is a kick in the teeth to the farmers and crofters who are working hard to bring this breed back from the brink and to sustain its valuable genetics.
“If the threat was to a rare animal or insect the government would rush to protect them, but these cattle are just as important. They must be saved.”