Town & Country
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’