The future of the UK's rare, native poultry is under serious threat due to recent bird flu outbreaks, said conservationists - sparking a plea for government help.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) has moved all native chicken, duck, geese and turkey breeds into the highest "Priority" category on its latest Watchlist.

This is partly due to the "devastating impact" on poultry breeding programmes from the avian influenza epidemic, which swept through East Anglia  in the autumn and winter of 2021/22.

But it also highlights "significant increases in animal husbandry costs".

Seven of the UK’s 11 native pig breeds also remain in the "Priority" category, with most now showing a "sustained downward trend" in total sow numbers.

The RBST is calling for targeted government action to encourage more people to keep these "irreplaceable breeds" and safeguard their future.

Chief executive Christopher Price said: “Today’s new RBST Watchlist reflects the major challenges faced by people keeping pigs and poultry over the past two years, notably the avian flu outbreaks and the sustained increase in animal feed and husbandry costs.

"We must reverse these worrying declines before it is too late.

“The government’s new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes encourages farmers and smallholders to choose native breeds for grazing, but it does nothing to help safeguard the future of our native pig and poultry breeds.

"Today’s Watchlist shows the outlook for our rare pig and poultry breeds is a great concern, we want to see the ELMs SP8 supplement broadened to include native pigs and poultry as well as grazing animals.”

Although the 2024 Watchlist outlines major challenges for rare UK poultry and pig breeds, it shows a more positive and stable picture overall for native equines, cattle, sheep and goats.

There was positive news for livestock breeds including Norfolk Horn sheep, which saw a 14pc increase in the number of breeders after some worrying data in recent years, and Saddleback pigs, which bucked the general downward trend across the pig breeds with a 16pc increase in pedigree registered progeny and the number of breeders up 12pc.

Mr Price added: “The positive news for a number of our precious rare breeds in today’s Watchlist reflects the breeding programmes and conservation activities of the past few years."