In December 2022 a historic deal was struck to halt the global loss of biodiversity by 2030. The UK was one of the signatories to the Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Conference agreement, which contains some extremely valuable points on native livestock conservation which going forward RBST will use to build its advocacy strategy.

The conference was the 15th meeting of the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), otherwise known as COP15, which took place in Montreal Canada.

The CBD is an international treaty dating back to 1993 for the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. It seeks to address all threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including threats from climate change, through:

•      scientific assessments,

•      the development of tools, incentives and processes,

•      the transfer of technologies and good practices, and

•      the full and active involvement of relevant stakeholders including indigenous peoples and local communities, youth, women, NGOs, sub-national actors and the business community.

With representatives of 196 governments, participation among countries at the December 2022 gathering in Montreal was near universal, and these were joined by delegates from a wide range of stakeholders including members of the business and finance community, scientists and academics, indigenous peoples, local communities and youth representatives. The aim was to finalise and adopt a new international agreement, the Global Biodiversity Framework, which contains a series of goals and targets to tackle nature loss this decade.

Following a two-week meeting, a package of measures was agreed which are described as ‘deemed critical to addressing the dangerous loss of biodiversity and restoring natural ecosystems’. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework includes four overarching goals and 23 targets for achievement by 2030.

As a signatory to the framework, the UK government is formally obliged to act on these goals and targets, amongst which are some useful points on native livestock conservation. With native breeds’ advocacy at government level high on the RBST agenda, we are already, with the support of our President Baroness Hayman of Ullock, challenging the government on their position on the framework and how they plan to implement what they have agreed to.

There are a number of key provisions within the framework that relate specifically to our areas of interest. Specifically, Goal A states:

  • The integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems are maintained, enhanced, or restored, substantially increasing the area of natural ecosystems by 2050;
  • Human induced extinction of known threatened species is halted, and, by 2050, extinction rate and risk of all species are reduced tenfold, and the abundance of native wild species is increased to healthy and resilient levels;
  • The genetic diversity within populations of wild and domesticated species is maintained, safeguarding their adaptive potential.

The third of those points is the most pertinent and, as genetic diversity within domesticated species is reflected in the range of livestock breeds, we are calling on the government to do much more to maintain and safeguard this diversity of breeds. Allied with that is the need for government to assess the adaptive potential of the genetic diversity of domesticated species. This is particularly important within the context of climate change and disease risk, where in both cases specific breeds may have traits that are useful in mitigating the impact.

Of the 23 targets, target 4 calls for governments to: “Ensure urgent management actions, to halt human induced extinction of known threatened species and for the recovery and conservation of species, in particular threatened species, to significantly reduce extinction risk, as well as to maintain and restore the genetic diversity within and between populations of native, wild and domesticated species to maintain their adaptive potential, including through in situ and ex situ conservation and sustainable management practices, and effectively manage human-wildlife interactions to minimize human-wildlife conflict for coexistence.”

We are asking what the government is doing to maintain and restore genetic diversity within domesticated species using (a) in situ and (b) ex situ practices. With ‘insitu’ referring to conservation in natural settings this would include conservation through ELM. However, the government’s current intention is simply to roll over Countryside Stewardship option SP8 which only supports, in essence, native breeds grazing protected sites. Accordingly, its scope is very limited and falls far short of a general in-situ livestock conservation scheme.

Ex situ conservation means conservation outside natural environments, in particular through gene banking. So far as we can ascertain, the UK is the only developed country in which livestock gene banking is not a public function. In the UK, livestock gene banking it is left to RBST despite the UK government being prepared to fund plant and seed gene banking.

Target 13 calls for governments to: “Take effective legal, policy, administrative and capacity-building measures at all levels, as appropriate, to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits that arise from the utilization of genetic resources and from digital sequence information on genetic resources, as well as traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, and facilitating appropriate access to genetic resources, and by 2030 facilitating a significant increase of the benefits shared, in accordance with applicable international access and benefit-sharing instruments.”

Our question relating to this target is: What is the government doing to ensure the sharing of the use, benefits and knowledge of livestock genetic resources?

Our next question relates to wording within section J of the framework, which covers responsibility and transparency, specifically stating:

The successful implementation of the framework requires responsibility and transparency, which will be supported by effective mechanisms for planning, monitoring, reporting and review forming an agreed synchronized and cyclical system.

This includes the following elements:

(a)  National biodiversity strategies and action plans, revised or updated in alignment with the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework and its goals and targets as the main vehicle for implementation of the framework, including national targets communicated in a standardized format,

(b)  National reports including the headline and as appropriate other indicators in the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework monitoring framework.

Our question: what are the government’s strategy, action plans and targets for maintaining and safeguarding the genetic diversity of kept species?

The UK government has the ability to lead the way in delivering on the promises enshrined in the Kunming-Montreal framework agreement, which has been described as a ‘once-in-a-decade deal to halt the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems’. A shift to nature and climate-friendly farming with native breeds at its heart will play a key part in the conservation of our native livestock, moving them into the serious mainstream of farming with ‘big-picture’ credibility. What we need now is for our government to endorse its support of the agreement by implementing the measures that will achieve this.

Christopher Price, CEO - Spring ARK 2023
Photo - Jane Bissett