A total of 75 native UK livestock and poultry breeds – including the cattle breed behind the world’s first vaccine – have been identified as ‘high priority’ lines on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s new watchlist.

The RBST works across the UK to save and safeguard the future of rare and native livestock and equine breeds, and its watchlist is the annual situation report for these breeds.

The methodology behind the list has also been updated this year to give a more encompassing view of each breed’s outlook, reflecting measures of the genetic diversity within each breed – rather than simply counting the number of breeding females registered, as was previously used.

RBST Watchlist

Breeds identified to be most at risk had trends of very low populations as well as a lack of genetic diversity.

Four ovine, six bovine, seven equine, six porcine, two caprine, and 50 poultry breeds were all identified as being of highest priority.

They include:

  • Gloucester cattle – famous for the crucial role of Gloucester dairy cow Blossom in Edward Jenner’s 1796 experiment which paved the way for the first vaccine. Breeding numbers have been low but consistent for some years, but herd numbers have declined significantly from 54 herds in 2006 to 27 herds in 2020.
  • Tamworth pigs – the closest living relative of the Old English Forest Pig. In 2020, there were only 29 herds that registered offspring in the year, down from 66 in 2010. Female registrations in 2020 were 125, down from 268 in 2010.
  • Cleveland Bay Horse – England’s oldest breed of horse and Yorkshire’s famous coach horse, with breeders including the Queen. There were 13 breeders registered progeny in 2020, falling from 22 in 2018.
  • Eriskay ponies – the small but strong working ponies of crofters on the Western Isle of Eriskay. In 2020, seven females were registered – a very low number but an important increase from two in 2018. Six herds registered progeny in 2020, up from two in 2018.
  • Old English Goat – often called the “original smallholder’s goat” because of its popularity with smallholders in the 19th Century. With an estimated population of just 74 living adult females in 2019/2020, the breed is now the rarest UK native breed of goat.

The RBST watchlist takes on a new format for 2021, reflecting growing recognition among farmers and smallholders of the commercial potential and environmental importance of the UK’s rare breeds of livestock and equines.

The outlook for many of the UK’s rare native breeds has remained broadly unchanged, thanks to continuing interest from new breeders, the commitment of dedicated Breed Societies, conservation programmes at the 25 RBST-accredited farm parks, and generous public support for RBST’s work.

However, as RBST chief executive Christopher Price explained the effect of the pandemic is yet to be seen.

“Farming with rare and native breeds has become increasingly attractive over the past few years, as consumers place a premium on great tasting, locally-sourced meat that is kind to the natural environment and based around high standards of animal welfare,” he said.

“At the same time, we have seen government policy starting to reflect the value of our native breeds to maintaining our natural environment and promoting biodiversity.

“The new watchlist more clearly shows a number of breeds which are ‘At Risk’ but with an improving outlook for their survival well into the future, including; Traditional Hereford cattle and British White cattle; Oxford Sandy and Black pigs; New Forest ponies; Bagot goats and Golden Guernsey goats; Leicester Longwool sheep; Boreray sheep; and Greyface Dartmoor sheep.

“However, there are breeds in all our livestock and equine categories which remain a priority, and we are working closely with breed societies and RBST-accredited farm parks to improve their position with vital conservation programmes.

“Last year’s births were largely the result of pre-pandemic breeding programmes so we will be keeping a very close eye over the coming months on the impacts of last year’s restrictions – particularly on the equine breeds,” he concluded.