Now that the UK has left the EU, each home country is devising it's own agricultural policy to replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). RBST is working with each countries government to ensure the interests of our native livestock and equines are properly protected and promoted in each country’s policy. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the incentives and remove the obstacles and we are determined to make the best of it.

What follows sets out the current state of play in each country, although most of the focus is inevitably on England, and what RBST is doing to influence matters.

Direct Payments

The way in which the four UK countries have gone about implementing their direct payment schemes varies significantly. All of them apply the principle of “public money for public goods”; earning payment will be conditional to some extent on the delivery of, primarily, environmental benefits, but the extent to which they aim to support farm incomes differs between the countries.

The English scheme is the most developed. Under the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme farmers will be able to select a number of “actions” from a lengthy list, each of which requires certain activities to be carried out in return for payment. The list includes keeping native breeds, subject to various conditions and criteria. The full details, so far as they are available, are set out elsewhere in this issue.

On balance, RBST believes the Welsh proposals are among the best for native breeds. The detailed position is considered in detail elsewhere in this issue, but in essence farmers will be entitled to a Universal Baseline Payment in return for carrying out 17 Universal Actions, most of which relate to various aspects of land management. In addition, farmers will be able to claim additional payments for carrying out one or more Optional Actions. The list of Optional Actions has yet to be finalised but it includes payment for keeping native breeds.

The positions in Scotland and Northern Ireland are less certain. The Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill gives the government the power to support native breeds, and many other relevant activities, but to date indications on how this will be done in practice are limited.

The situation in Northern Ireland is equally unclear with any support for native breeds being likely to come through the Farming with Nature Package, which is still at the pilot stage. Northern Ireland is, however, introducing a Beef Carbon Reduction Scheme which, as a measure for reducing overall livestock emissions, includes payments for reducing the age at which cattle are slaughtered to 26 months – again this is discussed further in this issue. RBST, together with a number of breed societies, is concerned that this discriminates against many native breeds that take longer to finish and is querying the policy with politicians and officials.

Capital Grants

In addition to the direct payments under ELM and its equivalents, there is also a range of capital grants available. What follows relates to England, but there are similar initiatives in the other three countries.

Under the Farming Investment Fund (FIF) farmers can obtain grant funding to improve productivity and profitability, the environment and animal health and welfare. This includes grants to add value to agricultural products, including meat, wool and skins, provide housing for calves to improve health and welfare, and to improve farm productivity.

The minimum grant is £25,000 and the maximum grant for adding value is £300,000. Grants are intended to cover up to a maximum rate of 40% of the costs of a project and at least 60% of the project costs must be paid for with money from private sources like savings or a bank loan. The details of what the fund will pay for and the eligibility criteria are complex, but full details can be found on the Defra website.

Under the Farm Innovation Programme (FIP,) grant funding is available for farmer-led research to improve agricultural and horticultural productivity, sustainability and resilience, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and horticulture and use science and research to develop solutions for practical challenges in agriculture and horticulture.

The amounts of money involved in FIP funding, and the conditions attached, mean that applications are best made at the breed society, or groups of breed societies, level. Accordingly RBST is working with a number of societies and university researchers with a view to bidding for funding for appropriate projects.

AHDB Support

Farmers keeping native breeds pay the levy to AHDB in the same way as other livestock farmers. Accordingly, RBST has been working with AHDB staff to identify their areas of activity that benefit those running businesses based on native breeds in particular.

We have now compiled a range of resources produced by AHDB that should help native breed keepers better market their produce. The details can be found elsewhere in this edition of the Ark, and on the RBST website.


We know how much abattoirs matter to RBST members. If there is no local abattoir capable of processing small numbers of non-standard animals to the highest welfare standards and able to return the fifth quarter, keeping native breeds is a challenge. That’s why RBST dedicates so much time to securing the future of the abattoir network.

We were delighted when the Small Abattoir Fund was announced towards the end of 2023. The fund totals £4million.

The items the grant supports are intended to: improve productivity, enhance animal health and welfare, add value to primary products and encourage innovation in the use of new technologies.

Through the fund, grants of between £2,000 and £60,000 are available to cover 40% of the overall cost of the works. Whilst we welcome the fund, we are concerned that the percentage contribution is too low to provide a sufficient incentive, and so will be monitoring take-up rates closely.

Alongside the lack of capital investment, the other challenge facing abattoirs is the regulatory burden, particularly as regards the extent of the need for supervision by Official Vets (OVs), with all the associated costs, once an abattoir’s throughput exceeds a thousand livestock units per year. This makes for a significant barrier to expansion.

This is why we are calling on government to adopt the so called ‘5% rule’, a rule in EU law that allows smaller abattoirs to slaughter up to 5% of the total national throughput without requiring the full OV presence.

Animal Health and Welfare Pathway

The ways in which native livestock are kept are generally associated with higher welfare and biosecurity standards, which is why RBST has been so supportive of government initiatives to improve animal health and welfare.

These initiatives are packaged together as the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway. Alongside promoting higher welfare produce through improved food labelling, currently the subject of a government consultation, and strengthening the regulatory baseline, there are also capital grants of up to £25,000 available through the Farm Investment Fund mentioned above.

Also, livestock keepers can apply for an Annual Health and Welfare Review. This is funding for a vet of your choice to visit your farm and help you reduce the risk of endemic disease, increase productivity and improve welfare.

The number of animals required to qualify is relatively low: eleven or more beef cattle, eleven or more dairy cattle, 21 or more sheep or 51 or more pigs.

Different types of livestock attract different payment rates, ranging from £372 for dairy cattle to £684 for pigs. This is to reflect the fact that testing takes longer for some types of livestock than others and that some results cost more to analyse.

More details of all of these are available on the Defra website. All of this is England only, but we are encouraging the other governments to roll out equivalent schemes.

To keep up with the latest developments on the issues covered in this article, check the RBST website.

Author : Christopher Price CEO
Photograph: The Lint Mill