My family have farmed in the Gwinear area for over 150 years and this week Trevaskis Farm hosted the launch of a new project to help better understand the genetics behind one of our country’s rarest breeds of pig, the British Lop, which is native to Cornwall.
We have records that show that my Great, Great Great Grandfather first kept this pig and the breed was formally recognised in 1920. The family have 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 third of the total national population are to be found at Trevaskis.
Genetic diversity has always been the key that enables life on earth to adapt to new challenges. When any species in its natural environment faces a threat through disease pressure, the solution is always to be found through a gene that had been tucked away somewhere but which has particular traits that suddenly come into their own and spread. This, in turn, creates the resilience on which life depends. It is because of this quite fundamental rule of life that protecting and maintaining biodiversity is of such great importance to the planet and why we should also strive to preserve the genetic diversity that is held within the many rare breeds and native breeds of farm animal. Once a particular gene or line becomes extinct, it is gone for good.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is a national charity that leads the work to preserve and rekindle some of our rarest breeds of farm animal and, with the support of a grant from the Gerald Fallowes Trust, it has teamed up with my brother and the British Lop Pig Society to support a new initiative that will improve understanding of the breed. There will be steps to better understand the unique DNA behind the British Lop pig and which genes truly differentiate it from the rest. There will then be a number of initiatives to try to establish a gene bank to protect this crucial genetics.
The new Agriculture Bill that will replace the Common Agricultural policy (once we finally get free of the EU) has set out the idea of financial support and incentives for the delivery of “public goods” like genetic diversity. I have been pressing the government to develop its approach to supporting rare breeds and native breeds in more detail. This week I have tabled amendments to the Bill to make clear that supporting genetic diversity is one of the purposes of the Bill and I have also secured a meeting at Defra with representatives of our native breeds and rare breeds so that this vital area of work can be discussed.