In the 1990s the late Robert Overend MBE, a lifelong RBST member and leading pig breeder, pioneered new techniques for the freezing of boar semen at Deerpark Pedigree Pigs in Northern Ireland, working with Landrace and Large White boars. In response to the restrictions on boar movements during the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001 RBST and the BPA asked Deerpark to set up an artificial insemination service for Watchlist breeds so that breeders could continue to serve their sows. As the boars were already in the AI centre, it was decided to try freezing the semen using the new techniques developed by Robert. The results were very encouraging and so, in 2002, the Gene Banking project was born.

Working to FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organization) guidelines the aim of the Gene Bank is to have a minimum of 25 unrelated boars from each breed stored in the Gene Bank. Working towards this, the first step was to ensure that all the breed lines are represented with a minimum of ten boars from each breed collected. The programme recognises the cultural elements of a native breed which is why RBST is ensuring that it stores all of the bloodlines and includes a wide range of different herds are included alongside maximising the genetic diversity within the Gene Bank through the selection protocol.

The joint venture has evolved over the years but as it enters its 20th year a remarkable level of success has been achieved. To date 97 boars have been collected with almost 6500 straws being frozen. Seven of the ten breeds have all their bloodlines represented and three breeds, Gloucestershire Old Spots, Large Black and Tamworth also have achieved both targets. (to date the total investment in straws and equipment exceeds £300K)

Selection protocol

In order to be collected the boars must pass the relevant health testing and are selection is made based on a number of other criteria including:

  • Breed standard
  • Level of inbreeding with the boars already in the Gene Bank
  • Level of inbreeding within the breed population as a whole
  • Level of introgression and inbreeding within the pedigree

The selection of boars for the Gene Bank meets one of the three key recommendations in the Breed Conservation Plans published each spring following the completion of the annual bloodline survey. This survey was initiated by RBST in 1985 and has been a key pillar of native breed pig conservation for nearly 40 years.

Many of the boars that are selected for the programme are produced through specific breeding programmes organised by breeders clubs such as the British Saddleback Breeders Club and the Large Black Pig Breeders Club working with BPA breed representatives and the BPA Conservation Committee.

2021 additions to the Gene Bank

Despite the Covid pandemic, collections have continued and six new boars were selected for the programme in 2021. These were:

Berkshire-Cobtree Peter Lad 2

Two more Berkshire boars are still needed to complete the interim target of collecting all the named lines with a minimum of 10 boars from each breed.

British Saddleback - Blackthorn Carl 325

This boar was bred by the British Saddleback Breeders Club and leaves only the Guardsman line to be collected to complete all of the breed’s 14 lines.

Large Black - Framfield Majestic Eagle 313

This boar is from a very rare Bess-line sow which was part of a least-related conservation programme, organised by the Large Black Breeders Club. It completes the interim target of ten boars and all the lines.

Middle White - Junior Rajah 2

This boar was part of a shipment of six breeds sent to Northern Ireland supported by BPA and RBST bringing the total number of Middle White boars in the Gene Bank to eight.

Oxford Sandy & Black - Waywood Alexander 23

The OSB breed still requires another three boars to complete the initial target

Welsh - Leystersspring Vulcan 15

Three more boars from the James, Leo and Victor lines are needed.

Also still needed are a Nekton boar for the British Landrace and Prince boar for the Large Whites.

All boars in the programme are collected for Gene Bank storage, and, where possible, they are also made available for fresh semen sales for breeders to use in current breeding programmes.