Country Life

Rare pigs and poultry become even rarer


AVIAN flu, combined with substantia­l increases in the cost of keeping poultry, has had a serious effect on Britain’s native chicken, duck, geese and turkey breeds, all of which have been moved into the ‘priority’ category of the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s (RBST) 2024–2025 Watchlist, which is released today. The picture is not too rosy for native-breed pigs either: seven out of 11 breeds are now categorise­d as priority and the number of registered Welsh pig sows dropped to 296 in 2023 from 457 in 2020. The only positive pig news is for the smartly marked Saddleback, with an increase in both keepers (by 12%) and breeding sows (16%).

‘The UK’S brilliant array of rare and native poultry is under serious threat,’ comments RBST trustee Tom Davis, who runs the community charity Mudchute Park and Farm in east London. ‘There is a clear decline in active breeding programmes and, when breed population­s are so low, losing flocks can be devastatin­g. Collecting comprehens­ive rare-breed poultry data to steer conservati­on efforts is a serious challenge and we really need more people to be encouraged to keep these birds and work with RBST and breed societies to help conserve them for the future.’

Data from the British Pig Associatio­n confirms a twoyear decline of 75 breeding sows for the snub-nosed Berkshire pig and a drop of 65 for the Tamworth, Britain’s original forest pig. There is bad news, too, for the Section B Welsh pony—over

15 years, numbers of this charming children’s riding pony have plummeted from 1,044 to fewer than 400. Despite being a royal favourite, the versatile Cleveland Bay now has a dangerousl­y low Effective Population Number (a measure of genetic diversity, not actual numbers) of under 50. The dual-purpose Shetland cow that has sustained crofters since the days of the Vikings has declined by 19% and the Lincoln Red sees a worrying drop of 39% in registered dams. ‘Some of these rare native breeds have provided communitie­s with food, fibre and power for centuries,’ says RBST chief executive Christophe­r Price (My favourite painting, page 58). ‘As well as their great value to our national heritage these breeds have a crucial role in the UK’S transition to sustainabl­e food production that also supports the natural environmen­t.’ Defra’s new Environmen­tal Land Management scheme (ELMS) encourages farmers and smallholde­rs to choose native breeds for grazing, but, as Mr Price points out: ‘It does nothing to help safeguard the future of our native pig and poultry breeds. We want to see the ELMS SP8 supplement broadened to include native pigs and poultry as well as grazing animals.’

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 ?? ?? Above: The ‘priority’ Buff Orpington. Below: Shetland cows are in decline
Above: The ‘priority’ Buff Orpington. Below: Shetland cows are in decline

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