Scottish vet and venison sector champion Dr John Fletcher has been awarded the 2019 Marsh Christian Trust Award by Rare Breed Survival Trust.

Auchtermuchty-based Dr Fletcher is well known to many as Britain’s first commercial deer farmer – and more recently as the first man in Scotland to have donated a kidney to a stranger.

But the RBST award is for his work with Chillingham Wild Cattle, the only wild cattle herd in Britain. The Chillingham cattle are never handled and exist in only two herds in Britain – a reserve herd belonging to the Queen and the herd within Chillingham Park in Northumberland, where they have been enclosed for some seven hundred years and have become so interbred as to be effectively clones with no genetic variability. This makes them of great scientific value and their conservation is a matter of international concern. Their total population numbers less than 200.

Dr Fletcher worked with the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association and AB Europe – a company specialising in artificial breeding and based in Edinburgh – to collect embryos from the cattle which could be kept frozen as a safeguard against any threats to the existing herds. The work took three years and was successful in that a limited amount of genetic material has been preserved despite the very low fertility of the Chillingham bulls and, to a lesser extent, the cows.

The RBST administers the Marsh Christian Awards which were created by Brian Marsh OBE, and Dr Fletcher has received the award specifically for Conservation in Genetic Biodiversity. The presentation will be made at the RBST stand at the imminent Royal Highland Show.