Farming News - Major Concerns For UK’s Rare Pig and Poultry Breeds in New RBST Watchlist

Major Concerns For UK’s Rare Pig and Poultry Breeds in New RBST Watchlist

With today’s new Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) Watchlist increasing concerns for the UK’s rare native pig and poultry breeds, RBST is calling for targeted Government action to encourage more people to keep them.


Today’s Watchlist moves all native chicken, duck, geese and turkey breeds into the Priority rare breed category in response to the devastating impact on poultry breeding programmes in recent years of avian flu restrictions combined with significant increases in animal husbandry costs. The Watchlist also shows major challenges for the UK’s rare native pig breeds, but a more positive and stable picture overall for native equines, cattle, sheep and goats.

Rare Breeds Survival Trust Chief Executive Christopher Price said: “Each of our rare native livestock and equine breeds is unique. Some have provided communities with food, fibre and power for centuries. As well as their great value to our national heritage these breeds have a crucial role in the UK’s transition to sustainable food production that also supports the natural environment.

 “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. We have moved all native poultry breeds to the Priority category as we continue providing urgent support for these irreplaceable breeds’ conservation. Seven of the UK’s 11 native pig breeds remain in the Priority category, with most of the rare pig breeds now showing a sustained downward trend in total sow numbers. The at risk Welsh pig for example has fallen from 457 sows in 2020, to 296 in 2023. We must reverse these worrying declines before it is too late.

 “The Government’s new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme encourages farmers and smallholders to choose native breeds for grazing, but it does nothing to help safeguard the future of our native pig and poultry breeds. 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.”

The RBST Watchlist 2024-25 shows which of the UK’s cattle, sheep, pig, goat, poultry and equine breeds are now the most urgent ‘Priority’ concerns, which remain ‘At Risk’, and which are currently non-rare native breeds. It reflects robust measures of the genetic diversity within each breed as well as the numbers of breeding females registered. See the full list attached or at


RBST Trustee Tom Davis is Farm Manager at Mudchute Park & Farm in East London, a community charity that keeps a wide range of native breed livestock including rare poultry breeds such as Dorking chickens and Aylesbury ducks. Tom Davis said: “The UK’s brilliant array of rare and native poultry is under serious threat. Under the continued threat of avian influenza, there is a clear decline in active breeding programmes and when breed populations are so low, losing flocks can be devastating. Collecting comprehensive rare breed poultry data to steer conservation efforts is a serious challenge, and we really need more people to be encouraged to keep these birds and work with RBST and breed societies to help conserve them for the generations of the future.” 

Today’s new RBST Watchlist also confirms growing concerns about a number of individual rare breeds including:

  • Now Rare: Section B Welsh pony - one of the four types of Welsh Pony, the small but spirited Section B was for many generations the main transport for shepherds and hill farmers and today excels as children’s riding ponies. With a sustained decline in dams producing registered progeny (from 1044 in 2009 to below 400 in 2023), this breed is now classified as rare, joining the At Risk category in today’s Watchlist.
  • The Priority category pig breeds – British Pig Association data shows declining numbers overall for the Priority category pig breeds, including the Berkshire pig (total sows down from 363 in 2021 to 288 in 2023), and the Tamworth pig (total sows reduced from 304 in 2020 to 239 in 2023).
  • Shetland cattle – thought to have come to the UK with the Vikings, this breed has provided dairy and beef in the Shetland Islands ever since. A fine-boned animal with small, up-sweeping ‘Viking horns’, this breed was already in the At Risk category and has seen a further 19% decline in the number of dams in 2023.
  • Original Population Lincoln Red cattle – this large cherry-red breed has served Lincolnshire since the 17th Century, possibly earlier, before becoming rare with the importation of continental cattle. Already in the At Risk category, the breed saw a concerning 39% reduction in the number of dams in 2023.
  • Cleveland Bay horse - one of the UK’s rarest native equine breeds, these powerful and calm horses can be traced back to the travelling Chapmen of Yorkshire and have since been used for pack and pillion work, riding, ploughing, and pulling coaches and carriages. Queen Elizabeth II famously gave the breed a remarkable boost when she purchased a rare Cleveland Bay colt in the 1960s. Stable but very low numbers give this breed an ‘Effective Population Size’ (which is a measure of genetic diversity within the breed, not a population total) of below 50.

However there is positive news for a number of other rare UK livestock and equine breeds including:

  • Major success for Greyface Dartmoor sheep – as of today this south-west longwool breed is no longer categorised as rare on the RBST Watchlist. Since 2009 the number of flocks has increased by 155%.
  • Norfolk Horn sheep - after some worrying data in recent years, 2023 saw a 14% increase in the number of breeders for this At Risk breed.
  • Vaynol cattle – this Priority breed remains one of the UK’s very rarest cattle breeds but has now recorded two years of stable numbers.
  • Irish Moiled cattle – this At Risk breed has seen an increase of 8% in the number of dams in 2023.
  • Saddleback pig – bucking the general decline across the pig breeds and after a challenging 2022, the number of Saddleback dams producing pedigree registered progeny was up 16% in 2023 along with the number of breeders which was up 12%.
  • South of England’s ponies (New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor) – the New Forest pony is performing very well numerically and if current trends continue the breed could move out of the rare categories in the coming years. The Dartmoor pony (At Risk category) has recorded stable numbers and the Exmoor pony (Priority category) has seen a welcome improvement with the number of dams increased by 28% in 2023.
  • The UK’s four native goat breeds - Positive breed performance for all four native breeds of goat (Bagot, English, Golden Guernsey and Old English) provide good platforms for these rare breeds to continue improving their conservation status.

 RBST Chief Executive Christopher Price adds: “The positive news for a number of our precious rare breeds in today’s Watchlist reflects the breeding programmes and conservation activities of the past few years. Despite the severe challenges that farmers, smallholders and other conservationists have faced during the pandemic and in the difficult economic climate, these positive trends are a fantastic reflection of the dedication of those working with rare breeds, and of the growing appreciation among farmers that these are great breeds for modern times, and among consumers of the fantastic quality of their produce.

 “RBST continues to work hard for more positive results for all our rare livestock and equine breeds through scientific research, application of the latest conservation tools and techniques, supporting crucial networks for breeders, and promoting these breeds and their sustainable, high-quality produce.”