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Cause for concern as RBST release 2011 watchlist

News Date: 10.02.2011

10 February 2011
With the launch of the 2011 RBST Watchlist, the official record of the numbers of the UK’s rare native livestock breeds, the charity has issued a warning.  While a number of breeds have maintained their populations, some worrying trends are emerging in others which indicate a decline in the numbers and registrations.
One factor that RBST believes may be starting to have a negative impact on the world of rare breeds is the background economic situation.  Conservation Officer Claire Barber says:  “Because we look at three-year averages, we are only now starting to see the credit crunch effect.  Over the past year, breeders have experienced problems in selling stock on.  They are no less committed to breeding, but we will start to see a reduction in numbers if the market for animals continues to decline.”
This year, two breeds have improved, moving down the Watchlist by showing an increase in numbers.  Irish Moiled cattle are now listed in Category 4, ‘At Risk’, having improved from Category 3, ‘Vulnerable’.  This improvement is attributed to a determined effort by the breed society to revive the breed which had fallen to less than 30 females in the 1970s.  Over the past 12 months, the number of registered breeding females has risen by nearly 90.  The Irish Moiled Cattle Society launched a breeding strategy in 2008 with much work being done on areas such as inbreeding coefficients and maintenance of the genetic base.    The other improving breed is the Bagot goat, which has gradually increased in numbers, making the transition into Category 3, ‘Vulnerable’.
Claire Barber says:  “As always, we want to draw attention to the excellent work being done by breeders and owners up and down the country.  However, we do feel that there is a need for caution as there are growing concerns for a number of breeds.  For example, with the Cotswold and Whitefaced Woodland sheep there is a worry about lack of registrations and we have seen them moving up the Watchlist, indicating that their situation is becoming more serious.”
Concern in the cattle breeds is focused on the Whitebred Shorthorn whose fall in numbers sees the breed moving from Category 2 to Category 1, ‘Critical’.  This is a result of a second year of decline in numbers for this breed, which has traditionally been bred in the border counties of England and Scotland, with bulls being used primarily to cross with the Galloway to produce the noted Blue Grey, or with the Highland, producing a Cross Highland.
Whitebred Shorthorn Association Chairman Adrian Wheelwright has described the change in Watchlist status as ‘a wake-up call’.  He says:  “Having carried out our own census of the breed, the biggest surprise was that out of a population of 200-plus females, we were only registering about 60 animals a year.  It is a disappointingly retrograde step when you consider that we had thought that rising interest in the breed would run ahead of supply.  Unfortunately very few people are interested in the breed for its own sake and a huge number are not bred pure at all.  Breeders must realise that the genetic base must not be allowed to shrink any further and larger numbers of cows must be bred pure.”
Looking to the future, RBST is hopeful that two initiatives it is currently funding could see the populations of both Vaynol and Northern Dairy Shorthorn cattle increasing.  Under its conservation programme, a new Vaynol herd has been established under the stewardship of Neville and Maureen Turner in Lincolnshire.  For the Northern Dairy Shorthorn, an embryo transfer project co-ordinated by veterinary surgeon Charles Castle should see an increase in the number of annual births and help accelerate a growth in numbers.
Conservation Officer Claire Barber concludes:  “Overall the message coming out of the 2011 Watchlist is that RBST can continue to report on success stories.  However, while an encouraging number of breeds continue to maintain their numbers, there are some worrying trends where we are seeing a decline in actual numbers or in registrations that call for a degree of caution.”
Note to Editors
 A pdf of the RBST 2011 Watchlist can be downloaded above.
1. For further details contact Linda Trotman on 01564 742731 or RBST on 02476 696551 
2. RBST is a registered charity no.269442. It was established in 1973 as the world’s first national charity for the conservation of farm animal genetic resources to protect the UK’s native farm animal breeds from extinction. During the first seven decades of the 1900’s, 26 native breeds of livestock became extinct in Britain. Since the formation of the RBST no native breeds have been lost.
3. To carry out its conservation work RBST maintains the RBST National Gene Bank, develops breeding conservation programmes, works with breed societies and advises Government. It also promotes the important role native breeds play in the conservation of genetic diversity, landscape management, agriculture and as part of our heritage.
4. The annual RBST Watchlist monitors the registered adult breeding female numbers and vulnerability of over 90 native breeds. The annual RBST Watchlist monitors the registered adult breeding female numbers and vulnerability of over 90 native breeds. Population genetics and trends in breed density and distribution are also facts included in the assessment of breed endangerment.
5. Information on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust can be found at: http://www.rbst.org.uk.