Town & Coun­try

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by Kate Green

Na­tive breeds re­turn to mar­ket

CHAM­PI­ONS of Bri­tain’s na­tive farm an­i­mals— from the multi-horned Manx Loaghton to the whiterumped Glouces­ter cow—are mak­ing an im­pas­sioned plea to own­ers and farm­ers to take more re­spon­si­bil­ity for their future by reg­is­ter­ing prog­eny with the rel­e­vant breed so­ci­ety. Proper main­te­nance of pedi­grees will pre­serve the an­i­mals’ ge­netic in­tegrity and dis­tinc­tive­ness and re­silience to dis­ease as well as boost­ing de­mand for their meats.

Speak­ing at a Rare Breeds Sur­vival Trust (RBST) con­fer­ence last week, ge­neti­cist Libby Hen­son pointed out that an an­i­mal can only be con­served if there is a mar­ket for it. ‘We have a fan­tas­tic wealth of breeds that are not just dif­fer­ent in coat colour or num­ber of horns, but in their ge­netic make-up,’ ex­plained Miss Hen­son, whose late fa­ther, Joe, was a founder mem­ber of the RBST.

‘And there are real dif­fer­ences in taste—we had a fam­ily tra­di­tion of “guess the breed” at Sun­day lunch—but, in or­der to save this fab­u­lous di­ver­sity, we need to eat them. Thanks to peo­ple bang­ing the drum, rare-breed pro­duce is now in the pub­lic do­main and pro­duc­ers can get a pre­mium price for it, but it must have in­tegrity. The pub­lic is on our side, but it’s es­sen­tial that we keep our part of the bar­gain and give them what they think they’re buy­ing.’ Miss Hen­son adds that reg­is­ter­ing is im­por­tant for breed de­vel­op­ment: ‘This could be a bit con­tro­ver­sial, but breeds don’t have to be pre­served in as­pic. We don’t want to be pro­duc­ing ex­actly the same an­i­mals in 30 years’ time.’

Bri­tain has more pig breeds than any other western na­tion, for which Mar­cus Bates from the Bri­tish Pig As­so­ci­a­tion cred­its the work of ‘stub­born old men’ in the 1950s, but agrees that their sur­vival ‘de­pends on a place in the com­mer­cial mar­ket and not on sen­ti­ment’. And, ac­cord­ing to An­drew Sharp, a butcher and mem­ber of Mut­ton Re­nais­sance: ‘Sheep are like wine— they all have dif­fer­ent flavours—but the con­sumer won’t have a clue about reg­is­tra­tion or pedi­gree; we have to get that right our­selves.’

Dan Sal­adino, pro­ducer of Ra­dio 4’s The Food Pro­gramme, sug­gests that more could be done to ed­u­cate cus­tomers: ‘If you eat Herd­wick lamb, you’re help­ing keep the [Cum­brian] land­scape on which it lives, but few peo­ple have any con­cept that the land­scape is there be­cause of farm­ing and that, when they’re buy­ing the pro­duce from it, they’re help­ing keep a lo­cal pub or school open.’

Both farm­ers and res­tau­rant own­ers at the con­fer­ence report an in­crease in in­ter­est in rare-breed meats and Wir­ral-based spe­cial­ist butcher Cal­lum Edge thinks to­day’s shop­pers are more knowl­edge­able about food: ‘I’m pos­i­tive that our stock­ing na­tive breeds is what has made us a destination shop. I don’t want to be part of the wider mar­ket—we have to dis­as­so­ci­ate our­selves from other breeds.’

How­ever, both David Wil­son, farm man­ager of the RBST pa­tron The Prince of Wales, and Phil Stocker from the Na­tional Sheep As­so­ci­a­tion sug­gest that ‘hy­brid vigour’ and not be­ing too pre­scrip­tive can be a good thing. ‘We’ve got such a wide range of sheep breeds and it would be a shame not to recog­nise the value of cross-breed­ing for dif­fer­ent mar­kets,’ ex­plains Mr Stocker. ‘Up­lands sheep tend to be hardy and in­de­pen­dent, with strong ma­ter­nal in­stincts, but they’re not pro­lific breed­ers, nor are they par­tic­u­larly milky or large, but, if they’re crossed with, say, Bor­der Le­ices­ters, you can gain real en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mer­cial ben­e­fits when you have them on low­land farms.’

The RBST (www.rbst.org.uk) is work­ing with the Slow Food Move­ment’s Ark of Taste, which aims to pro­tect en­dan­gered lo­cal foods world­wide, to pro­vide a UK list that in­cludes such prod­ucts as red grouse, au­then­tic Ayles­bury duck and Cromer crab (www.fon­dazion­slow­food.com).

The Search for Gold, Cadair Idris, Wales, by Ayr­shire-born land­scape artist Ram­say Gibb, who is ex­hibit­ing for the first time in an evoca­tive dis­play of Bri­tish land­scape paintings at the Catto Gallery in Hamp­stead, Lon­don NW3 ( un­til Au­gust 2). Artists in­clude Gra­ham Arnold, Haydn Cot­tam, Colin Fraser, Ian Har­g­reaves and An­nie Oven­den ( 020–7435 6660; www.cat­to­gallery.co.uk)

These happy breeds: the pub­lic is more ed­u­cated about the im­por­tance of na­tive breeds such as Glouces­ter Old Spot pigs, Manx Loagh­tan sheep and Glouces­ter cat­tle

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