Town & Coun­try

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Kate Green

Act now to save the en­dan­gered Glouces­ter Old Spot

THE pig that pro­duces prob­a­bly the most suc­cu­lent sausages in the land is in de­cline, warns the Rare Breeds Sur­vival Trust (RBST). The char­ity’s watch­list for 2017–18, pub­lished this week with the most ac­cu­rate, up-to-date in­for­ma­tion yet, shows that num­bers of Glouces­ter­shire Old Spot (GOS) lit­ters have more than halved in two years, to 416 in 2016, and the breed is now ‘at risk’.

This is not for want of ef­fort by the 104-year-old breed so­ci­ety, whose pres­i­dent, The Princess Royal, keeps GOS pigs at Gat­combe Park in Glouces­ter­shire. This year, so­ci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives met with Farm­ing Min­is­ter Ge­orge Eus­tice to dis­cuss Eu-pro­tected food-name sta­tus af­ter Brexit— the GOS is one of only two porcine breeds (the other is the Welsh) to have it; it’s an­tic­i­pated that De­fra will need to es­tab­lish a na­tional scheme.

Ju­dith Sims, com­mit­tee pres­i­dent of the GOS Pig Breed­ers’ Club, has the old­est herd in the coun­try, in Cleve­don, near Bris­tol. She’s baf­fled by the drop in num­bers: ‘I can only imag­ine a lot of it’s to do with the ris­ing cost of feed and the knock-on ef­fect of cold win­ters and wet sum­mers—times are chang­ing and not ev­ery­one wants to be tied,’ she sug­gests.

Mrs Sims points out that some breed­ers con­fuse birth no­ti­fi­ca­tion (with the Bri­tish Pig As­so­ci­a­tion), which must take place be­fore piglets are 10 weeks, with reg­is­ter­ing. ‘You must no­tify a birth—reg­is­tra­tion can hap­pen at any stage. It will add value to your pigs and it’s worth it—they’re so pretty to look at and such good moth­ers.’ She ex­plains why the meat is so tasty: ‘They’re not fatty pigs, but they have that lit­tle more fat on the back that makes all the dif­fer­ence. I don’t know why ev­ery­one doesn’t have them!’

Although na­tive cat­tle breeds are be­ing boosted by a grow­ing mar­ket for grass-fed meat and in­ter­est in mi­cro­dairy­ing, goat num­bers are re­cov­er­ing and sheep are hold­ing their own— even the Bor­eray, rarest of all, has moved up a cat­e­gory from en­dan­gered to vul­ner­a­ble—most pig breeds are de­creas­ing and the RBST’S mes­sage is ‘Go na­tive’, both in buy­ing and eat­ing.

‘The sit­u­a­tion for pigs and equines re­mains ex­tremely wor­ry­ing,’ com­ments chief ex­ec­u­tive Tom Bee­ston. ‘It’s not that these breeds lack their en­thu­si­asts—in fact, the sit­u­a­tion for na­tive pigs has vastly im­proved over the past 40 years—but eco­nomic fac­tors have a mas­sive in­flu­ence and, how­ever en­thu­si­as­tic peo­ple are, breed­ing is very chal­leng­ing at pre­sent.’

Mr Bee­ston would like to see more par­ents buy­ing na­tive ponies for their chil­dren—the only equine to en­joy a reg­is­tra­tion in­crease dur­ing the past year is the hack­ney.

‘We have such a range of breeds that there’s some­thing to suit ev­ery­one,’ agrees Na­tional Pony So­ci­ety chair­man Jackie Webb. ‘There are Welsh cobs showjump­ing, Con­nemaras in en­durance, Shet­land ponies driv­ing and High­land, Fell and Dales ponies have enough bone for an adult to ride. The list is end­less and with so many breeds be­ing multi-tal­ented, there’s no rea­son not to buy a na­tive.’

‘The sit­u­a­tion for pigs and equines re­mains ex­tremely wor­ry­ing The num­ber of Glouces­ter Old Spot lit­ters (above) has halved in the past two years and the breed is now ‘at risk’

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