Rare Breed Survival Trust 2015 Watchlist Released
In 2014 RBST was able to collect more data than ever before in order to compile the 2015 Watchlist. This means the data is becoming an increasingly accurate reflection of the situation facing our native breeds.
For the first time, it is possible to see whether population trends are on the rise or are falling within RBST Watchlist categories, or whether breeds are remaining numerically stable.
The key message is that the work must go on, if we are to ensure that native breed livestock populations are to survive in sufficient numbers to fulfil the role they can play in a sustainable future for UK farming.
While there is some positive news, no breeds have succeeded in moving off the main watchlist into category 6 and two breeds have unfortunately come on:
British Landrace pig - moved onto the watchlist in category 3 ‘Vulnerable’
Llanwenog sheep - return to category 5 ‘Minority’ after successfully moving into category 6 in 2008
To compile the watchlist, numbers of fully-registered UK females are provided annually by breed societies. An average of these data over a rolling three-year period is then calculated and a species specific multiplier is applied to convert these figures to the number of breeding females. The methodology is applied to sheep, cattle, goats, pigs and equines. Other factors such as genetic or geographic vulnerability need to be taken into account.
We have worked continuously for over 40 years to preserve native breeds of livestock and are proud that no breed has been lost since 1973, but the figures behind the 2015 watchlist do not make for comfortable reading.
CEO Tom Beeston sums up the situation by saying:
“Last year’s Watchlist was described as a wake-up call – this year’s delivers the message that we have more work to do, not less. While we do have some good news in terms of movement between categories, the added trend information that we have been able to introduce shows us that we need to be even more focussed. Those trends tell us that we are currently facing a worsening situation in terms of registrations across many of our breeds.
“We also have to factor in threats such as avian flu and bTB which have the potential to deliver catastrophic impacts on our rare breed populations. These threats, allied with economic factors which work against substantial increases in the numbers of livestock on the ground, highlight the importance of the RBST Gene Bank as an essential insurance policy for the future. That, in turn, means that we have to look at ways to substantially ramp up our fundraising efforts in order to raise the essential revenue that will enable us to continue our work.”
The situation for our native pigs is causing major concern on this year’s Watchlist. Each breed is showing trends for reducing populations and registrations, highlighting that our native pig breeds face significant threats. Due to significant fall in actual registrations and estimated population trends, RBST Conservation Committee agreed that the British Saddleback and Oxford Sandy and Black be moved from category 5 to 4 and the Berkshire and Tamworth from category 4 to 3. It was also agreed that the application by the British Pig Association (BPA) for the British Landrace be recognised by RBST as a native rare breed be accepted and the breed has joined the Watchlist in Category 3.
Sheep breeds represented some of the more positive aspects of this year’s Watchlist movements. With a trend for increasing numbers having been sustained for a third consecutive year, Boreray sheep have moved from Category 1 to Category 2 and with an increase sustained for a fourth year, the Oxford Down moves from Category 4 to 5.
Concerns over geographical concentration have meant that the Devon & Cornwall Longwool stays in Category 3 and, although the breed has seen an increase in numbers, the Conservation Committee felt that the Leicester Longwool should remain in Category 3 because of high levels of inbreeding.
Numbers however continue to fall for the Border Leicester and Devon Closewool and with numbers having fallen below the 3,000 threshold the Llanwenog moves back into Category 5 from 6.
Good news for cattle is the move of the Whitebred Shorthorn back to Category 2 after having dipped into Category 1 in 2011.
Also improving is the Lincoln Red (100% original population) which has moved from Category 3 to 4 following four years of rising numbers.
Breeds which have seen significant declines in their populations from 2014 are the Northern Dairy Shorthorn, Original Population Dairy Shorthorn and the Vaynol. Smaller decreases in the past year were also noted for less rare breeds such as the Shetland, White Park and British White.
Described as a species in crisis in the 2015 Watchlist report, equines on the whole continue to struggle. The exceptions are the Cleveland Bay, Clydesdale and Suffolk, all breeds which have seen increased registrations and breeding populations compared to the previous year.
Although still 7 animals over the upper threshold for Category 1, the Dales Pony has been moved from Category 2 to 1. This reflects risks represented by a significant fall in registration numbers and the estimated population trend, together with a possible geographical risk that has been highlighted by the breed society.
Based on a fall in registrations and estimated population trend, the Dartmoor also moves, this time from Category 3 to 2, while the Exmoor stays in Category 2 due to high levels of inbreeding and decreasing numbers.