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Adam Henson on the work being done around the country to preserve rare animals

PUBLISHED: 10:14 01 September 2015 | UPDATED: 10:14 01 September 2015

Belted Galloway (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Belted Galloway (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

© 2015 Mike Harrison/ Creative Nature Media

My latest series of assignments for Countryfile fit me like a glove. During the coming months, I’ll be travelling all over the country filming Adam’s County Breeds, telling the story of our native cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, goats and horses as well as meeting the dedicated people who keep them.

There’s barely a county or region of the UK which hasn’t been able to boast its own distinctive breed of livestock at some point. From the Cornish Black pig to the Shetland pony; from the Golden Guernsey goat to Aberdeen Angus cattle; the map of the British Isles is just like a history lesson in livestock farming. But why do Devon, Gloucester and Hereford have their own distinct breeds of cattle? How did Portland, Leicester and Norfolk end up with different types of sheep? The answer lies in the ingenuity of the farmers of the past. Over generations they bred and developed their animals to suit their local landscape, climate and soil type or the food habits of the local population. The result has been a really diverse variety of breeds from one end of the country to the other with individual characteristics and features. There’s nowhere else like it in the world.

Now it’s important to point out that not all the county breeds of the UK are rare or under threat. Of course there are some which are so few in number that their status is officially declared critical or endangered, like the Cleveland Bay horse, the Bagot goat and the Boreray sheep. But many others are doing well with plenty of breeding females to keep the bloodlines going, including Belted Galloway cattle, Southdown sheep and the Welsh pony and cob.

Our first location for Adam’s County Breeds was Lincolnshire which was a significant place to start. Not only have there been a total of five local breeds over the centuries (sheep, cattle, pig, poultry and horse), but it’s also the county with the sad distinction of being the home of the last rare breed to have died out. The Lincolnshire Curly Coat pig, which was famous for looking exactly like a hog in sheep’s clothing, became extinct in 1972. Within months the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) had been created with my dad, Joe, installed as its first chairman. Thanks to the Trust’s brilliant work to promote and conserve our native livestock over the last four decades no other British breeds have died out. It’s a remarkable legacy, as you’ll discover as we make more editions of Adam’s County Breeds in the months ahead.

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