The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has warned of a decline in the numbers and registrations of the UK’s rare native livestock breeds, following the launch of the charity’s 2011 RBST Watchlist.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) has warned of a decline in the numbers and registrations of the UK’s rare native livestock breeds, following the launch of the charity’s 2011 RBST Watchlist.

While a number of breeds have maintained their populations, the charity is concerned that “some worrying trends are emerging in others”.

Adrian Wheelwright, chairman of the Whitebred Shorthorn Association with bull.This year, two breeds have improved. Irish Moiled cattle are now listed in Category 4 (At Risk) – having improved thanks to a determined effort by the breed society – and the Bagot goat, which has gradually increased in numbers, making the transition into Category 3 (Vulnerable).

Conservation officer Claire Barber said: “[We] feel that there is a need for caution as there are growing concerns for a number of breeds. For example, with the Cotswold and Whitefaced Woodland sheep there is a worry about lack of registrations and we have seen them moving up the Watchlist, indicating that their situation is becoming more serious.”

Concern in the cattle breeds is focused on the Whitebred Shorthorn whose fall in numbers sees the breed moving from Category 2 to Category 1 (Critical). According to the charity, this is a result of a second year of decline in numbers for this breed, which has traditionally been bred in the border counties of England and Scotland, with bulls being used primarily to cross with the Galloway to produce the noted Blue Grey, or with the Highland, producing a Cross Highland.

The Bagot goat is gradually increasing in numbers.Whitebred Shorthorn Association chairman Adrian Wheelwright has described the change in watchlist status as “a wake-up call” and stated: “Breeders must realise that the genetic base must not be allowed to shrink any further and larger numbers of cows must be bred pure.”

One factor that RBST believes may be starting to have a negative impact on the world of rare breeds is the background economic situation, which has resulted in breeders experiencing problems in selling stock on. 

However, looking to the future, the charity is hopeful about two initiatives it is currently funding. Under its conservation programme, a new Vaynol herd has been established in Lincolnshire, while an embryo transfer project should see an increase in the number of annual births and help accelerate a growth in numbers of Northern Dairy Shorthorn cattle.

Ms Barber concluded: “Overall the message coming out of the 2011 Watchlist is that RBST can continue to report on success stories. However, while an encouraging number of breeds continue to maintain their numbers, there are some worrying trends where we are seeing a decline in actual numbers or in registrations that call for a degree of caution.”

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