Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) (AB02)

Introduction

This evidence is from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), between 1900 and 1973, the United Kingdom lost 26 of its native breeds of livestock. RBST was established in 1973 to arrest this extinction. The RBST is the sole national organisation which monitors, saves and promotes native breeds of livestock.

• It monitors numbers of animals by collating and publishing an endangered breeds Watchlist.

• It saves animals by the collection of germinal products, sperm, ova, embryos, and freezing them in the UK National Livestock Gene Bank.

• It promotes the use of native breeds of livestock for food, fibre, conservation and utility.

The Agriculture Bill and native livestock

RBST supports the Agriculture Bill, particularly its "public money for public good" ethos and its commitment to supporting improvements in productivity. 

RBST particularly welcomes the introduction of the power to give financial assistance for conserving native livestock and equines or genetic resources relating to such animals - Clause 1(1)(g)

RBST also welcomes the power to give financial assistance for improving agricultural productivity – Clause 1(2)

RBST is a member of Sustain and Wildlife and Countryside Link and supports their briefings on the wider aspects of the Bill.

Why support native livestock?

Economic :  

There are around 30,000 herds and flocks of native breeds in the UK.  They contribute over £700 million to UK local economies.

Native breeds were bred for the British landscape, they can thrive on even marginal grass land with a minimum of expensive inputs.

It’s not just the meat, our native breeds provide wool, skins and horns. With good marketing, emphasising the local connection, native breed produce sells at a premium.

Social and cultural :  

Native breeds are part of our national identity and heritage – and they represent a unique piece of the earth’s biodiversity. 

Environment :  

Grazing with native breeds plays an important role in the development and maintenance of natural habitats and increasing biodiversity. The meadows and pasture we treasure exist because they were grazed by our native breeds. If we want to restore these habitats, the use of native livestock is the way to do it.

Risk reduction  

Genetic resistance is increasingly important for the control of animal diseases, today and in the future.  Saving our native breeds can help us to face as yet unknown challenges in the form of disease resistance and susceptibility, climate adaptation, food security and resilience.

How Government should exercise the native breeds powers

Native breed farmers are by nature independently minded and entrepreneurial. They recognise that the best way to conserve our breeds is by promoting their produce efficiently and effectively. However, there are some breeds, and some benefits provided by the breeds, that cannot be conserved by market measures alone.

Support all the ways in which native breeds are conserved

Whilst farmers and smallholders do most of the conservation work, there are other drivers

· Gene Bank: The Gene Bank contains rare semen and embryos used to maintain genetic diversity and as insurance against the loss of genetic materials in the event of a disease outbreak. Unlike its equivalents in most countries, it is entirely funded by private donations.

· Bespoke projects: Some breeds require bespoke conservation programmes to restore their fortunes. At present these projects are entirely funded by generous individuals, which is a significant limitation on what can be done.

· Farm Parks: The network of Approved Farm Parks is an essential conservation resource. They have the capacity to carry out co-ordinated conservation projects and to ensure that valuable breeds are dispersed across the country. They do what zoos do for wild animals. Most are owned by local authorities or charities and so struggle for funding

· Advice: Keeping native breeds requires knowledge and expertise and the main source of advice is other farmers and breeders and the organisations that represent them. But providing advice involves time and money. Funding for providing advice should be available to a variety of providers, not just public officials.

Promote conservation grazing

The meadows and pastures that we value so much came into being because they were grazed by our native livestock. If we want to restore, or even create more of them, we should be incentivising farmers to keep native livestock.

In addition, native livestock, with their unusual appearance, horns, long coats, colours etc add to the quality of the landscape. The countryside is a more interesting and attractive place.

Save Abattoirs

We have farmers willing to produce niche, low impact high welfare native breed products, and we have consumers wanting to buy those products.  It is therefore frustrating that we lack the network of abattoirs to bring them together.

Where there are abattoirs, they are often so far away the journey compromises welfare and, in any event, cannot process nonstandard animals.  So even if you have an abattoir on your doorstep it may be no use to you.

Where abattoirs still exist, government should invest to enable them to cater for native breeds, often small numbers of animals with thick coats and horns. Where there is no abattoir, government should invest in mobile or popup abattoirs until longer term solutions are in place.

No discrimination on holding size

With BPS farmers cannot claim if their holding is less than 5Ha. This threshold needs to be much lower under the new scheme to ensure the necessary incentives to conserve our native breeds are in place.

If we are to maintain the breadth of genetic diversity, we need variety of different sized farms to be keeping them. Whilst the owners of larger holdings can often maintain large numbers of animals, a large number of holdings each with fewer animals is better for the maintenance of genetic diversity.

Accordingly, we need to ensure that farmers of all scales are equally incentivised.

February 2020

 

Prepared 12th February 2020