All of the work carried out by RBST is underpinned by the Watchlist, which ranks breeds on the size of their female breeding population.  It plays a key role in helping set priorities and it is therefore essential that it is subject to periodic review.

Such a review is currently being carried out by the Trust’s Conservation Team, assisted by members of the Expert Advisory Panel.  In the course of this review concerns have been raised that the methodology used to assess genetic diversity may need improvement to better complement the UK Government and international methodology in this area.

RBST objectives include the conservation of populations with characteristics of agricultural interest as well as breeds.  In 2020, RBST was asked to consider a wide range of proposals related to ‘original populations’ (OPs), at a cost approaching £0.5 million.  It was therefore decided to ensure that the concept of OPs be included in the Watchlist review.

In a wider context, although the Trust does currently recognise a number of OPs, this is not a concept generally recognised internationally in livestock conservation. All breeds evolve over time, some at different rates; not all evolutions are beneficial, but many are if well managed.  Equally not all original traits are beneficial, but many are worth conserving. So, whilst discrete OPs may exist at periods in time with traits worth conserving, conservation of such populations, whilst important, should also be seen as integral to in situ and ex situ conservation of the evolving breed as a whole.

The inclusion of OPs in the Watchlist review is a work in progress, but concerns have been raised over the lack of accessible records, small and possibly unviable population sizes, and lack of information on their unique characteristics of agricultural interest.

The team aims to complete this review as soon as possible and once complete, it will be subject to comments from the Expert Advisory Panel as a whole. If appropriate, the Trust will also consider publication of this important work in a peer reviewed scientific journal.