Between 1900 and 1973, the United Kingdom lost 26 of its native breeds. This was caused by changing farming methods and a much more intensive approach to food production. Even though many of the UK's native breeds were no longer considered economically valuable for the mass production of food, their many other important attributes such as adaptation to the local environment, the genetic diversity they represented and their close links to our livestock history and cultural heritage were recognised by a group of pioneering individuals. This led to the formation of Rare Breeds Survival Trust to help conserve and safeguard Britain's remaining native breeds from extinction. Since the trusts formation in 1973 no other native livestock breed has become extinct in the UK.
Before the formation of RBST, a number of the UK's breeds were lost. These include:
Cattle: Alderney, Suffolk Dun, Sheeted Somerset, Castlemartin, Caithness, Irish Dun
Sheep: Limestone, St Rona’s Hill, Roscommon, Rhiw
Pigs: Ulster White, Small White, Yorkshire Blue & White, Dorset Gold Tip, Lincolnshire Curly Coat, Cumberland.
Horses: Manx, Cushendale, Tiree, Long Mynd, Galloway, Goonhilly
Chickens: Lincolnshire Buff
Limestone Sheep, otherwise known as the Silverdale or Farleton Crag was a unique hill breed. It combined hardiness with high wool quality and an ability to give birth at different times of the year in a way that no modern hill breed can do.
If the Suffolk Dun had survived, it might have had a great impact on today’s dairy industry – even 150 years ago, the “cows of Suffolk though subjected to careless treatment, and supported on the most common kinds of food, are scarcely surpassed by any other in their power of yielding abundant milk”.
The Lincolnshire Curly Coat was a “robust, outdoor pig with a coat of long white quite unlike that of any other British breed”. The breed became extinct in 1972 when the last pigs were sent to slaughter yet they would have been invaluable in extensive outdoor farming systems.
Why should we protect rare breeds?
- These traditional native breeds are a symbol of British national heritage, but they are unfortunately often deemed less important compared to historic buildings or rare plants.
- Allows detailing of the genetic diversity and variation found in these rare breeds.
- Ensuring genetic diversity within the UK’s farm livestock means we have the genetic resources to respond to disease threats among commercial breeds of livestock or to introduce desirable qualities into these breeds in response to changing needs.
- Managing our areas of countryside in a way sympathetic to wildlife through conservation grazing.
- Ensures consumer choice in the food we eat