For the last 40 years the conservation of our native livestock and equines been entirely thanks to the hard work of a few dedicated tenacious individuals. But the new Agriculture Bill will change all that, in future they will have some help from the Government.

This is something RBST has been pressing for for many months.

The aim of the Bill is to shift agricultural policy towards paying farmers for the various public benefits they provide, rather than paying them for simply owning land, as is the case with the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the current scheme for supporting farmers.

This only applies in England. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments will be making their own decision, though RBST will be encouraging them to adopt a similar approach to England.

Most of the public benefits mentioned in the Agriculture Bill are environmental, such as improving water and soil quality or to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  However, the list also allows the Government to pay for:

‘conserving native livestock, native equines or genetic resources relating to any
such animal’

The explanatory notes to the Bill give an indication of the sort of things the money could be spent on:

‘These measures could, for example, be used to incentivise farmers to invest in rearing rare and native breeds or species, because these genetic resources may offer a way to sustainably increase food production and/or improve our capacity to adapt to climate change or the emergence of new animal or plant diseases by providing a breadth of genetic traits. These powers could also be used to incentivise existing gene banks to safeguard UK native and rare breed genetics or to provide on farm measures to manage disease risks amongst populations of rare breed livestock.’

So, the scope power is very wide, perhaps surprisingly so. It allows for the support of all native livestock and equines.  There is no requirement that they are rare, or that they are a member of a breed or even registered.  

Unlike the situation with BPS, there is no requirement to hold a certain amount of land.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the government will be giving money to everyone who owns a native animal.  They will be deciding priorities and devising one or more schemes each with its own eligibility criteria and rules to deliver on them.

But it does mean that we can go back to first principles and work out what we really need government to do help turn around the fortunes of our native livestock and equines. RBST has already given some considerable thought to what’s required, and over the coming weeks and months we will be talking to our members and others to get more ideas.  

Moreover, the power to directly support native livestock and equines, is not the only one of interest in the Bill. There are also powers to give financial assistance for new entrants, improving productivity and support for marketing, RBST will be pressing government to use these powers to both help revive the local abattoir network and promote the full range of native livestock produce.

The changes won’t happen overnight. BPS will be phased out over seven years starting in 2021 and the new schemes will be phased in over the same period. As yet we do not know how much money will be involved, neither the size of the overall budget or how much individual farmers and breeders can hope to receive.

RBST will, of course, be lobbying for the extent and level of support to be sufficient to fully restore the populations of our native livestock and equines.