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Latest RBST Watchlist paints worrying picture for our native breeds

17th Apr 2024 / By Alistair Driver

The latest Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) Watchlist shows that some of the UK’s iconic native pig breeds remain very much on the endangered list, with some showing concerning declines.

BerkshireThe 2024-25 Watchlist highlights increasing concerns for the UK’s rare native pig and poultry breeds, prompting RBST to call for targeted Government action to encourage more people to keep them via the new environmental schemes.

Seven of the UK’s 11 native pig breeds – Berkshire (pictured above), British Landrace, British Lop, Large Black, Large White, Middle White and Tamworth – remain in the highest risk Priority category, with most of the rare pig breeds now showing a sustained downward trend in total sow numbers.

The number of Berkshire pig sows has fallen from 363 in 2021 to 288 in 2023, while Tamworth pig sow numbers have reduced from 304 in 2020 to 239 in 2023.

Four more are in the At-Risk category – British Saddleback, Gloucestershire Old Spot, Oxford Sandy and Black Welsh. Of these, the Welsh pig sow numbers have fallen from 457 in 2020 to 296 in 2023.

There is some positive news, however. British Saddlebacks are bucking the general decline and, after a challenging 2022, the number of Saddleback dams producing pedigree registered progeny was up 16% in 2023, while the number of breeders was up 12%.

RBST chief executive Christopher Price said: “Today’s new RBST Watchlist reflects the major challenges faced by people keeping pigs and poultry over the past two years, notably the avian flu outbreaks and the sustained increase in animal feed and husbandry costs.”

He called for changes to Defra’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme in England to support native pig and poultry breeds. While ELMS encourages farmers and smallholders to choose native breeds for grazing, it ‘does nothing to help safeguard the future of our native pig and poultry breeds’, he said. 

“Today’s Watchlist shows the outlook for our rare pig and poultry breeds is a great concern –  we want to see the ELM’s SP8 supplement broadened to include native pigs and poultry as well as grazing animals,” he said.