RBST Watchlist appeal: help to conserve the Watchlist Priority Breeds

To coincide with the publication of the 2024 Watchlist, RBST maintains its important fundraising campaign, focussing on the Watchlist designated Priority Breeds – the most endangered native livestock and equine breeds.

Native breeds are important, both for what they are and what they do, and RBST is working hard to promote their business and environmental benefits to farmers, land managers and smallholders. First and foremost, they provide a great source of sustainably produced food and fibre at a time when the consumer is placing more importance on the provenance of the items they put in their shopping baskets.  Native breeds also helped shape many of the landscapes and habitats we now cherish, and they continue to play a key role in the preservation or restoration of those landscapes.

Sadly, however, we are never going to be able to save some of our rarest breeds through the efforts of farmers and landowners alone. The situation with some breeds is so critical that we need to take specific and immediate action if we are to secure their future. 

Here are just some examples of the Priority Breeds from the Watchlist that RBST aim to focus on with specific breed support projects that need your help:

  • Albion Cattle: In total, there are six priority cattle breeds, one of which is the Albion. With an Effective Population Size very close to the threshold of 50 (set by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO), managing inbreeding is a priority, along with promoting the breeds attributes and increasing numbers. Working alongside the Albion Cattle Society, RBST aims to help breeders manage inbreeding levels by adding additional bulls to the RBST Gene Bank, providing breeders with the ability to manage inbreeding and improve the genetic diversity within the breed.
  • Large White: With seven out of 11 native pig breeds being listed as a Priority, there is great apprehension for the future of our native pig breeds. One of these; the Large White, is a breed that has been influential globally in the pig industry but is now in a vulnerable position. RBST is working with the British Pig Association to establish new breeding programmes in several locations and encourage new breeders to opt for this breed. This will strengthen the breed’s genetic diversity and geographic dispersal around the UK, both of which are fundamental for any rare breeds future.

  • North Ronaldsay: One of four priority sheep breeds is the North Ronaldsay, a unique breed, often referred to as the seaweed eating sheep. The number of dams producing registered progeny fell below 200 for the second consecutive year. Therefore, RBST aims to increase the number of breeders, to encourage registrations and working with breeders to further highlight opportunities for the breed, away from the conventional routes to market that mainstream sheep breeds operate in. This includes investigating opportunities for wool and what role the breed can play in managing the land through conservation grazing.

  • Eriskay Ponies: This breed is one of six Priority equine breeds. The number of animals is desperately low, with just six or less foals registered in each of the past three years. RBST continues to work closely with the Eriskay Pony Society to expand the number of animals being bred, but also ensuring this is undertaken in a strategic manner.

  • English and Old English Goat: There are two goat breeds in the Priority category, both of which are extremely low in numbers, and this represents several challenges, with small populations there is a greater risk of inbreeding and a loss of genetic diversity. RBST are working alongside the relevant breed societies to produce a conservation strategy, with the overall aim of strengthening the number of both breeders and animals.
  • Rare poultry: In recent years, the poultry industry has had a number of significant challenges and as a consequence, all native poultry have now become a Priority. Meaning that all native Chicken, Duck, Geese and Turkey breeds are at an all-time high level of concern. The impact of Avian Influenza and rising feed costs has caused extensive challenges to all breeds. RBST will work with breed organisations to strengthen and improve the status of these breeds. 

The Priority Breeds appeal will help to ensure that the funds are in place to finance critical projects, securing the future for our most threatened native breeds.

If you can help RBST with this essential work, please click the Donate button. Alternatively, you can call the RBST office on 02476 696551 to make a donation over the phone.