A coronation fund is a great way to protect and champion Britain’s rare breed animals
George Eustice with his British Lop, Bezurrell Actress 429th (AKA “Actress”) | (Hearst Magazines UK)
4 min read
The coronation of King Charles III is an opportunity to bring the country together after several challenging years internationally and a chance to celebrate and recognise some of the causes that have been dear to the heart of our new King throughout his life.
The King has been a lifelong champion of our rare and native breeds of farm animals that keep alive genetic diversity in agriculture. I believe this lifelong commitment should be recognised through a new coronation fund, providing grant support to help native breeds develop their brand, market, and to support projects that preserve the genetic resources held within these native breeds.
I should declare my interest. My family has the largest and oldest herd of the British Lop pig in the country. We have also bred South Devon cattle for six generations and the family farm is also home to a few Greyface Dartmoor sheep and Marsh Daisy chickens (among others). Like all breeders of rare breeds, and pedigree native breeds, it is a labour of love for my family rather than a pursuit that brings great riches.
Once a particular gene or blood line becomes extinct, it is gone for good
My great, great, great-grandfather was involved in the formation of the South Devon Herd Book Society which gave this breed formal recognition. It has a long history in Devon and Cornwall, renowned for the quality of its beef and as a gentle giant, with a very laid back and docile west-country temperament. In the post-war period, prize winning breeding stock were exported throughout the Commonwealth and genetics from South Devons are a crucial ingredient behind modern commercial breeds in the United States, such as the Stabiliser.
The British Lop pig was formally recognised in 1920 and, again, my family was there from the start. It is native to Cornwall and my great-grandfather had tremendous success showing the breed. My family has maintained a herd of British Lops ever since and they can still be found at Trevaskis Farm today. In fact, the pig is so rare that about a one-third of the national population is to be found at our farm. Just last year, my brother won the pig interbreed championship at the Royal Cornwall Show with one of his British Lops, keeping alive a family tradition that has endured for generations.
Genetic diversity has always been the key that enables life to adapt to new challenges. When a species in its natural environment faces a threat through disease pressure, the solution is always to be found through a gene that has been tucked away somewhere which has particular traits that suddenly come into their own and spread. This creates the resilience on which life depends. It is a fundamental rule that protecting and maintaining both biodiversity across species and genetic diversity within species is of foremost importance to the planet and why we should strive to preserve the genetic diversity that is held within the many rare breeds and native breeds.
Once a particular gene or blood line becomes extinct, it is gone for good. Commercial livestock breeders using cross-bred animals of no defined breed will frequently need to return to the pools of genetic resources maintained in our native breeds to find solutions to problems such as lameness, susceptibility to disease, or to improve meat quality. Those who keep our rare and native breeds alive are therefore performing a vital service to the country and to other farmers. That is why the Agriculture Act 2020 explicitly recognised native breeds as a public good, entitled to the receipt of public money in just the same way that we pay for environmental goods. In this, the year of the King’s coronation, there can be no better time to open a new scheme to deliver the objectives of the Agriculture Act and finally recognise the value of our native breeds.
George Eustice, Conservative MP Camborne & Redruth and former environment secretary
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