2017 RBST Watchlist Shows Mixed Picture for Native Breeds

The livestock conservation charity, Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST) announced its Watchlist figures for 2017, which shows a mixed picture for the health of native breed populations.

While registration of breeding females remains largely stable or increasing for sheep and cattle, with positive trends for goats, the situation for pigs is described as “extremely worrying”.

Chillingham Wild Cattle

Chillingham Wild Cattle

Gloucestershire Old Spots show dramatic decline

Out of the 11 native pig breeds, all except the Berkshire, Middle White, Tamworth and Large Black, are showing declining numbers. The Gloucestershire Old Spots – arguably one of the breeds most well-known to the general public – is showing the most dramatic decline. In 2014, there were 837 sows producing birth-notified litters, while by 2016 this had dropped to only 416. This puts the breed in Watchlist Category 4 – At Risk.

RBST CEO Tom Beeston says:
“The situation for pigs is extremely worrying. It is not that our native breeds lack their enthusiasts and we must give huge credit to those breeders who devote time, energy and money to ensuring the survival of their favoured breeds. It is these efforts that have seen the situation for most native pig breeds vastly improving over the past 40 years. However, economic factors have a massive influence and for many people working with pigs, breeding is very challenging at present.”

Derbyshire Gritstone At Risk

From the Watchlist, RBST reports hopeful signs for native sheep breeds, despite the uncertainty of Brexit looming large over the sheep industry. Renewed interest has resulted in broad increases across the Primitive and Hill & Heath breeds, with numbers for Borerays and Whiteface Dartmoors going up. Conversely, the picture is more mixed for the Shortwool & Down and Longwool breeds although Dorset Down and Greyface Dartmoor registrations are increasing at an encouraging rate. One new breed, the Derbyshire Gritstone, has made its first appearance on the Watchlist, entering in Category 4 – At Risk.

White Cattle Showing Decline

Native cattle seem to be enjoying something of a revival, with the growing market for grass-fed meat and interest in small-scale dairying on the increase. Three dual-purpose breeds – the Gloucester, Irish Moiled and Shetland – are all enjoying a steady upward trajectory. Gloucesters and Irish Moiled have improved a category on the Watchlist and the Shetland is looking to follow suit next year. Breeds showing declines are the British White, Chillingham Wild, White Park and Whitebred Shorthorn.

With the Watchlist helping fulfil RBST’s role of monitoring native breed livestock, the charity is working with key food and farming industry partners to promote consumption of native breed products.

Tom Beeston says:
“Our message to breeders and consumers alike is #GoNative. We want to emphasise the importance of pedigree breeding and registrations to producers and to push home the message to consumers that unless the meat they buy comes from a registered animal, they can’t be sure they are eating the real thing.

“We have to maintain the genetic diversity of our native breeds of livestock and to do that we have to make the market for the produce to encourage more breeders. By continuously emphasising the necessity for breed registrations, we will also promote the importance of maintaining the integrity of native breed produce.”


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