A Welsh mountain sheep breed facing decline has been added to a rare breed watchlist.

Numbers of the Badger Face Torwen have declined nearly 30 per cent since 2013 and has now been added to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s (RBST) watchlist.

The watchlist indexes the UK’s rarest native livestock and equine breeds, and RBST will work in partnership with the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society to increase Torwen breeding numbers, prevent inbreeding, and safeguard the breed’s future.

Torwen sheep have a black face with white facial markings, and a black fleece with a white belly (Torwen means ‘white belly’).

Their legs are tan with a black stripe, the underside of their tail is white and the rams have dark spiralled horns.

Their markings are the reverse of the Badger Face Torddu breed.

Brian Eagles MRCVS, past chairman of the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society, has kept Torwens for more than 20 years.

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

"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 through new Torwen classes, or through Torwen’s being included in the rare breed classes."

The Badger Face Sheep’s historic name Defaid Idloes suggests links to a seventh century figure, Saint Idloes of Mid Wales.

The majority of today’s Torwen flocks are still found in Wales, but flocks have also been established in England and a small number in Scotland.

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.

Torwen and Torddu have previously been categorised as one breed but the Badger Face Mountain Sheep Society has traced evidence that shows 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 the Torwen is lower in number.

Crosses between the Torwen and the Torddu are called a Wendu and they are not considered to represent either breed.