Country Life

Town & Country

Return of the natives?

A PERFECT storm of Brexit, a pandemic and climate change, combined with a growing focus on local food, sustainable farming and enthusiasm for rewilding, is helping to raise the profile of Britain’s native livestock breeds. The animals’ hardiness and ability to flourish on lower inputs make them more environmentally friendly, as well as genetically important in the face of disease. However, as the latest annual Watchlist from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) shows, there is still work to be done.

Released last week, the 2021 Watchlist of breeds most at risk of disappearing—together with their precious genes—from the countryside places more emphasis on genetic diversity. Previously, breeds were categorised according to the numbers of breeding females registered; now, the list compares population sizes with rates of inbreeding and places them in one of three categories: ‘priority’, ‘at risk’ or simply ‘UK native breed’.

Breeds remaining in the danger zone include the Lincoln Longwool sheep, the Gloucester cow—the breed integral to the world’s first vaccine, against smallpox—English goat and Tamworth pig, among them

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