The Large White, which is known internationally as The Yorkshire Pig, enjoyed enormous popularity in the 1950s but its numbers have declined dramatically due to a trend for cross breeding.
Now the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST), which works to safeguard the future of rare, native livestock and equine breeds, has placed the Large White on its red list raising serious concerns for its future.
RBST chief executive, Christopher Price, said some of our native breeds are in “pretty dire straits right now”.
“The pig industry has had an awful year and the situation for native pigs is very concerning, with the decline in Large Whites seven of our 11 native pig breeds are now Priority breeds,” he said.
Mr Price said the Large White has had a significant influence in the commercial pig industry and the development of the hybrid pig.
But the RBST said in more recent years the breed’s effective population size has fallen from more than 900 in 2000, to just 125 today.
The watchlist produced by the national charity is its annual ‘healthcheck’ report reflecting the genetic diversity within each breed as well as the numbers of breeding females registered.
As well as Large White Pigs, Norfolk Horn Sheep have seen a decline, a trend which Mr Price said is “cause for real concern”.
“If we lose these breeds, we lose not only an irreplaceable piece of our heritage, but also their unique genetic value and their crucial contributions to a future for farming where food production and the environment go hand in hand.”
But Mr Price said there was positive news as the survey had also shown that while no breeds have improved enough to move off the watchlist this year, numbers of many are holding steady.
“The watchlist shows that many of our rare native breeds are holding a stable position thanks to the fantastic efforts of RBST members, despite the challenges and uncertainties of the pandemic.
“In changing commercial conditions and as environmental sustainability comes to the fore of agricultural policy, the UK’s native breeds of livestock are increasingly attractive for farming and land management.”
Mr Price said breeds enjoying an improving situation include the English Goat, Lincoln Longwool sheep, Middle White pigs and Vaynol cattle.
“We now have the chance to harness these welcome improvements into further success for these breeds,” he added.
Alongside Large White Pigs and Norfolk Horn Sheep, breeds which have seen a decline in 2021 include the Hackney horse and pony and Gloucester cattle.
Breeds which have seen an improvement include native breed goats which the RBST said are becoming increasingly popular.
The UK’s four native breeds English, Old English, Bagot and Guernsey have all seen a year of stability or growth in numbers.
There has also been a welcome upturn for Lincoln Longwool sheep, which although it remains on the Priority list, has seen an increase in population size and number of breeders with Vaynol and Albion cattle also seeing their numbers increase.