RARE breeds in Scotland have been thrown a new lifeline, as the Rare Breed Survival Trust launches its first ever solely Scotland-based forum.

The RBST is the national charity that works to save UK native breeds of livestock and equines that are at risk of extinction.

There are a number of breeds with a Scottish heritage that are on the RBST’s ‘watchlist’ as particularly rare and at risk, including Native Aberdeen Angus cattle, Shetland cattle, Boreray sheep, North Ronaldsay sheep, Soay sheep, the Eriskay pony, the Highland pony and the Clydesdale horse.

Martin Beard is taking on the role of RBST vice-chairman Scotland, starting on October 22, as the new RBST Scottish Forum launches at the Trust's virtual AGM.

Mr Beard explained: “The key thing is that RBST has been on the go for nearly 50 years and never had a focus in Scotland, so this is a great opportunity.

“This marks a new era for the RBST in Scotland, bringing together separate groups in Scotland to unify their voice and ensure strategy and focus in RBST work in Scotland.”

Martin, who has been involved in RBST in Scotland for seven years, but who joined the Trust nearly 25 years ago, also explained that the changes that everyone has felt in 2020 have also changed the situation for rare breeds.

“Agriculture is devolved, and there are many rare breeders in Scotland, so we’re trying to get a focus for their activity, and to get across the fact that there’s a chance for the industry for invest in rare breeds.

“There’s been a huge increased interest in provenance and ‘local’ – people are caring far more about where their food has come from, and how it’s been treated. Lockdown also saw a marked increase in this.”

As well as being irreplaceable in terms of Scottish heritage, the RBST believes that rare breeds have a crucial role to play in both environmental land management and the vitality of rural communities.

“The new forum is essentially to provide a focus for RBST in Scotland, and for Scotland in RBST – it’s a two-way street. We want to make sure RBST understand how Scotland differs from elsewhere, and that it should be focused on, and promoted elsewhere, accordingly.”

The RBST carries out conservation programmes that includes working with farmers and breeders in Scotland to increase numbers and geographic dispersal of rare breeds, and collecting genetic material from animals for its Gene Bank.

It also works to influence government to ensure rare breed conservation is encouraged and supported through farming and environmental policy, and this will be a key area of activity for RBST Scotland over the coming year.

“Next year is an election year,” said Mr Beard, “and that brings a lot of interest in looking at how things are done. It’s a good chance for us to try and influence policy and try and get some government support for rare breeds and equines. Want to capitalise on that opportunity, but also look at issues that are causing problems.”

He continued: “Local abattoirs are a big issue in Scotland, and the situation isn’t getting any better. We inputted into the government consultation about mobile abattoirs and need to keep on that. We’re keen to help RBST breeders get a premium for their products. Rare and native breeds have got a real opportunity and we want to build on that. There is a market for it, and it’s growing.”

He finished: “Overall, we need to conserve these breeds. They were bred in Scotland for a reason and in many cases, they are already resistant to diseases etc, and that sort of things important. Biodiversity and sustainable development are so important. We need to look at preservation for the future – the bigger picture is so important!”