For centuries, the Yorkshire countryside has been home to livestock and equine breeds which are now among the rarest in the UK: the Middle White and Large White breeds of pig, the Dales pony and the Cleveland Bay horse, and native breeds of cattle such as the English Longhorn.
A number of rare breeds of sheep native to Yorkshire are included on our Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST) Watchlist too such as the Teeswater, Wensleydale and Whitefaced Woodland, as well as the Lonk which has been added this year.
Despite the disruptions of 2020, fantastic work has been taking place at farms and smallholdings across Yorkshire, day in and day out, to help ensure that these and our other native breeds with such illustrious pasts can survive long into the future too.
A highlight of the year for me has been our work to take the unique qualities and histories of Teeswater and Wensleydale sheep to new audiences through the launch of the RBST Love a Longwool campaign.
This campaign is giving an important boost to our conservation programme, under which we are working alongside the longwool breed societies to increase the diversity and resilience of the nine native longwool breeds and to promote their uses for fibre, meat and conservation grazing.
RBST recognises excellence in rare breed conservation through the network of RBST Accredited Farm Parks, and across Yorkshire we are proud to work alongside Temple Newsam Home Farm in Leeds and Heeley City Farm in Sheffield. This year we were delighted to award RBST Accreditation to Sledmere House Farm Park near Driffield.
These sites have seen plenty of new arrivals through their crucial breeding programmes. Between them they have welcomed Golden Guernsey and Bagot goat kids, Oxford Sandy & Black and Saddleback piglets, Leicester Longwool and Soay lambs, and Shire horse foals.
A fantastic collection of new additions, each making a vital contribution towards the survival of their breed.
The RBST has also been encouraging more farmers and smallholders to ‘Go Native’ by providing information and advice on the commercial potential that rare breeds can offer.
The right policy environment is crucial for making the most of this commercial potential, and we were delighted that our work with Government came to fruition when support for native breed conservation was included within the new Agriculture Act when it passed into law in November.
A priority area of focus for RBST in 2021 will be the local abattoir network. Local availability of abattoirs with the certifications, skills and services that native breed farmers require is a vital asset that must be retained and so we are calling on Government to provide capital support to help small abattoirs adapt for a changing future.
This coming year we will also continue to make the case for the use of native equine breeds like Dales Ponies for conservation grazing in the UK. We still see imported breeds chosen over native breeds without good reason all too often.
We will also be continuing our scientific research into the bloodlines of the Cleveland Bay horse, research that can help inform breeding programmes and boost the resilience of this beautiful horse which has such an important place in Yorkshire’s heritage.