Fears over the future of rare-breed farm animals including Norfolk Horn sheep and Large White pigs have been raised by a conservation charity.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) has published its annual Watchlist, reflecting the breeding potential of the country's native livestock and horses.

The once-prolific Large White pig has been raised to the RBST’s highest "Priority" category after the breed suffered a further significant decline in numbers in 2021.

%image(14389077, type="article-full", alt="The Large White pig has been raised to the highest "Priority" category on the RBST 2022 Watchlist")

Also called the Yorkshire Breed, they were enormously popular in the 1950s but numbers fell dramatically due to a trend for crossing with Landrace pigs instead of pedigree breeding. In 1954 there were 16,751 licensed boars recorded, representing 76pc of the total male pig population - but just 66 boars were recorded in 2021.

And there are also concerns for the "At Risk" Norfolk Horn – a historic breed whose fleeces were the basis of East Anglia's famous worsted textile industry.

As its popularity waned there were just a handful left by the 1960s. But although breeders and conservationists helped their population recover, analysts said this year's significant decline in numbers of breeding dams and progeny is "very worrying".

RBST chief executive Christopher Price said: “Many of our rare native breeds are holding a stable position thanks to the fantastic efforts of RBST members, despite the challenges and uncertainties of the pandemic.

“However, some of our native breeds are in pretty dire straits right now. The pig industry has had an awful year and the situation for native pigs is very concerning, with the decline in Large Whites seven of our 11 native pig breeds are now Priority breeds.

"In sheep, there has been a significant decline in births of one of the UK’s oldest sheep breeds the Norfolk Horn, so that trend is cause for real concern too.

"If we lose these breeds, we lose not only an irreplaceable piece of our heritage, but also their unique genetic value and their crucial contributions to a future for farming where food production and the environment go hand in hand."

The RBST says other breeds whose declines are a cause for concern include the Hackney horse and pony, and Gloucester cattle.

No breeds have improved enough to move off the 2022 Watchlist, however there is positive news for Priority breeds including Lincoln Longwool sheep and Vaynol and Albion cattle – which all saw encouraging population increases last year.

%image(14389078, type="article-full", alt="Rare Albion cattle, like these animals at Melsop Farm Park, are one of the breeds which saw encouraging population increases in 2021")