Thousands of Blackface ewe lambs and other breeds bought by Northern Ireland's farmers now face a lifetime stranded on Scottish soil due to changes in the export requirements for sheep moving from the Great British mainland.

As the rules stand, such ewe lambs can only be exported to Northern Ireland once they are a year old and have been blood tested for Maedi Visnae, which means legally, they can not be shipped across the Irish Sea until 2021.

However, the new post-Brexit export requirements which come into force on January 1, 2021, mean such lambs would not be able to travel to Ireland, as from that date, all breeding sheep for export as well as being tested for MV, also have to come from a scrapie monitored flock or be genotyped ARR/ARR.

The problem is there are only around 220 flocks of all breeds in Great Britain registered scrapie monitored through the SRUC, and none of them are Blackface. Therefore, the new rules will have massive ramifications for the entire sheep industry.

Breed secretary of the Blackface Sheep Breeders' Association, Aileen McFadzean, said: "There are up to 7000 ewes lambs purchased by NI breeders wintered in Scotland and as the rules stand, they will not be allowed in, which will have a serious impact on hill sheep farmers in Northern Ireland and in Scotland.

"Many of these lambs are wintered by dairy farmers who need the grass early in the year to make silage, but if they have nowhere to go, it could become a serious welfare issue," added Ms McFadzean, who also highlighted the huge number of Blackface gimmers and ewes that are sold annually across the Irish Sea, that will no longer be able to be exported under the new rules. The problem is accentuated by the fact that under the current scheme rules, it takes up to seven years for a flock to become scrapie monitored.

"There have been circa 9000 breeding sheep exported to NI this year, the majority from Scotland and most are Blackface sheep, bought through both the auction marts and privately," said Ms McFadzean. "The value of these sheep will be in the region of £1.8m which is a huge loss not only to the Scottish hill farmers that rely on this trade as one of their main income streams, but to our whole economy – and, this figure does not include the thousands of sheep that go for slaughter or further finishing. As our flocks will have to become scrapie monitored, we will obviously lose up to seven years of trade, a colossal amount of money”

As a result, she called for a seven-year derogation to allow British farmers to become scrapie monitored and also asked Scot Gove to look at the current scheme in place in the UK.

Backing those statements, National Sheep Association chief Phil Stocker said: "The new ruling on exports are a result of the NI Protocol in the EU withdrawal agreement which mean exports to Northern Ireland are treated as if they are going to the EU. We need a seven-year derogation period and we need to push hard to get this through."

All breeds will be affected by the new export rules which could also have massive implications for future show sales.

Chief executive of the Suffolk Sheep Society, Robin McIlrath, said that although 95% of the Suffolk breed are ARR/ARR genotype, this increased emphasis and focus on Scrapie monitoring for export purposes will have a major impact on pedigree breeding sales and also on agricultural shows as societies grapple with the proposed requirement to ensure non monitored sheep are kept separate from those in the scheme, or are pre-tested ARR/ARR.

John Yates, chief executive of the Texel Sheep Society, of which there are roughly 20 members scrapie monitored, added: “I have no doubt that, sadly, these changes will disrupt the trade of animals and severely disadvantage commercial trade in our nation, isolating NI members for no logical reason and adding cost to trade with GB.

"It is disappointing that the industry has only been alerted to these changes at the last minute with little time to make preparations, but the society is giving the matter its full attention in readiness for next year’s sales season.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick added: “We are well aware of concerns around the potential disruption to the movement of high value breeding sheep between Scotland and Northern Ireland from the beginning of next year, after transition, and I have been in discussions with Ulster Farmers’ Union President Victor Chestnutt on this matter since last week.

“NFUS has raised industry concerns with Scottish Government officials, understand that those concerns have been taken to Defra to address and we are seeking urgent progress from Defra towards a pragmatic resolution. This long-established trade, involving thousands of sheep annually, is an important part of sheep production across Scotland and Northern Ireland, allowing for trade in quality breeding stock.

“NFUS remains adamant that the UK and European Union must achieve a deal which results in minimal disruption to trade flows. The imposition of disruptive non-tariff barriers to trade between Scotland and Northern Ireland will have serious implications for all Scottish sheep breeders who supply this trade. This isn’t just about trade barriers, but the difficulties that will be created around export health certification and scrapie monitoring.”

The Scottish Government confirmed that from January 1, all sheep intended for breeding and production in Ireland and the EU will need to comply with the relevant model European Health Certificate (EHC) which are available from the UK Government Gateway website. One of the conditions within the EHC for sheep relates to the risk of scrapie. Sheep for immediate slaughter however, do not need to comply with the scrapie requirement.

A ScotGov spokesperson said: “The requirements for trade between GB and NI after the end of the transition period are outlined in the NI Protocol. The Scottish Government understands that requirements for movements of animals from GB to Northern Ireland are the same as those for trade with the EU.

“The Scottish Government has, through the EU Exit negotiations, requested from the UK Government a negotiated outcome that allow the continuation of trade without barriers," stressed the spokesperson. “A negotiated solution to the new conditions for trade between Scotland and NI or the EU has not been forthcoming, and with only weeks before the end of the Transition, Scottish farmers should prepare for new barriers to apply.

“At the November Specialised Committee meeting the EU made clear that that the full array of checks and controls will need to be in place by January 1, including entry through a designated Border Control Post in Northern Ireland.”