Henry Dimbleby’s Food Strategy, launched today, makes some interesting points on the importance of our native breeds.  

In particular it rightly highlights the benefits the breeds bring to the landscape and wider environment.  With their distinct ways of grazing and browsing, the Strategy makes clear native breeds are fundamental to the pastures they helped create and which we now cherish.

In this country, beef, dairy and lamb farming is largely responsible for the appearance of our “traditional” pastured countryside. These animals are, literally, part of the landscape.

The Strategy then goes on to explain that native breeds have an important role to play in creating fresh habitats out of otherwise unproductive land.

Some of this unproductive land is exceptionally well suited to creating environmentally friendly landscapes, ranging from species-rich wood pasture grazed by rare breed cows, all the way to new biodiverse forests and rewetted peat bogs.

In addition, as RBST is increasingly also finding, native breeds are becoming increasingly popular in restoring damaged ecosystems and in rewilding and similar projects.

Some native breeds of cattle are being used in rewilding projects to create “pastured woodland”. Where trees and scrub are being allowed to spread, the trampling and grazing of small herd of cows creates clearings in the budding forest: places where sunlight can get through and, where they are well managed, can create an abundance of biodiversity.

The call in the Strategy for “a review of small abattoirs to ensure that the capacity exists to serve the expected increase in numbers of farms using livestock in their rotations” is particularly welcome and something RBST has also been calling for. Native breed farmers need a network of abattoirs capable of processing small numbers of non-standard animals in ways that meet the highest welfare standards.   

Finally, there is also a useful discussion of the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions, setting out the role of different breeds in addressing the climate crisis, noting that different breeds emit different quantities of methane, we do need more research on the implications of this as well as on the impacts on the different ways of feeding and keeping livestock.