CLEAN SHEET FOR RARE BREEDS
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust will be celebrating its 25th
anniversary at this years Bath and West Show. Ann Rogers
looks back over its history and explains its important role
THE proud boast of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust is that no breeds of farm livestock have been lost in the 25 years of its existence.
In fact, some breeds, Longhorn cattle and Shetland sheep for example, have flourished so well with the support the trust has given them, that they are no longer considered rare. They have graduated to minority breed status and their future prospects look encouraging.
But the need for the organisations work does not diminish. "Many breeds have stabilised but are still at dangerously low numbers and the drive forward must be to continue to consolidate what we have," says RBST chairman Alan Black, writing in the spring issue of The Ark; the trusts quarterly journal.
Agricultural shows are the ideal venue for trust promotions. The trusts stand has been a regular feature of the Royal Bath and West Show since 1976 and it will be found in the conservation area this year.
"We shall have a White Park cow and calf (the animal which is on our logo), a Saddleback sow and litter, two Dartmoor ponies (the newest addition to our list) and Castlemilk Moorit sheep, the rarest sheep in Britain," says RBST field officer Peter King.
There will also be a wide range of goods on sale. Although the trust is a registered charity depending upon members subscriptions, donations and sponsorship for its own survival, it also receives an income from its trading company which markets giftware, books, novelties together with promotional clothing.
The stand will be manned by staff members Peter King and Trudy Wheat aided by members of the local RBST support group. The trust has 29 support groups scattered across the UK and Northern Ireland. A large proportion of the membership keep rare breeds of one kind or another, but that is not a requirement for joining. Anyone with an interest in them is welcome.
Each group is autonomous and arranges its own programme of educational and social activities. Groups also carry out fund raising and promotional work on behalf of the trust which includes taking stands at local shows.
The trust has come a long way since it was first invited to exhibit at the Royal Bath and West Show. As the then honorary director Michael Rosenberg recalls: "The stand was very small, so I opted for three pens – one sheep, one pig and one beast. To save haulage costs I rang around to locate a good example of a Gloucester beast that was local, and was put in touch with a lady who said over the phone that she had the finest heifer of the breed.
"It was a cracking heifer, but when delivered to our stand on the first morning of the show, I found that it did not have a white stripe on its back. There I was for four days in a 10ft x 10ft shed with a mis-marked beast.
"I guess I did a reasonable job of talking my way out of it, as we eventually were allocated 200 running feet of shedding for the 1977 show and the rest, as they say, is history."
In those days the trust was administered from Mr Rosen-bergs Devon farm. Now it is run from a purpose-built office at the National Agricultural Centre, Warwickshire.
Among the trusts projects is one to encourage people to eat rare breeds. Changes in consumer demand as well as farming practices are the principal reasons the breeds became rare.
The Traditional Breeds for Quality Meats Scheme aims to link producers with retail outlets and to develop a market for "meat that retains all the old-fashioned virtues of succulence, tenderness and full-flavour". That is something which many of todays "foodies" have been delighted to discover at the schemes 20 accredited butchers shops spread from Cornwall to Renfrewshire. The guarantee is that the butchers within the scheme will serve customers pure-bred, rare breed stock, by name, raised to the highest standard. That includes non-intensive production and high welfare standards.
Besides developing markets, like the traditional breeds meat marketing scheme for surplus stock, and the annual show and sale (the largest sale of pedigree livestock in Europe) for breeding stock, the trust has created many technology projects. Those include semen banks for cattle and pigs, an incentive scheme to encourage milk recording in rare breed dairy herds, blood typing for horses and ponies and incentives to encourage the pedigree breeding of equines.
Sheep projects include a scrapie monitoring scheme which has the ultimate aim of controlling and maybe even eliminating the disease. There is also a programme designed to conserve the utility characteristics of traditional breeds of poultry. General projects include breed surveys, grants to breed societies and breeders groups, breed workshops and five-year support programmes for two breeds of sheep, one for goats and one for cattle.
There is a lot more besides, but farm livestock heritage and the preservation of genes for possible future use is the main aim.
For more information contact the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire CV8 2LG (01203-696551). *
Above: Alive and thriving thanks to the RBST – a White Park cow. Right: RBST director Peter King will also be at the show but minus the turkey.