Critically Endangered Native Breeds in Ireland Labeled “Immediate Conservation Concern” May Be Getting Help
A proposal that could help revive critically endangered breeds of livestock native to Ireland is currently under review. Due to this, some of the Emerald Isle’s rarest breeds of farm animals could potentially see their numbers rise — but only if plans to save imperiled herds come to fruition.
A report generated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Fingal County Council has identified 20 native breeds of horse, cow, sheep, pig, and fowl as being of immediate conservation concern.
Scant information is available on some of the animals, like the Bilberry goat, the Greyhound pig, and the Tory cow, which could all be extinct at this point. While other animals, such as the Kerry bog pony and the Moiled cattle, have reportedly been reduced to mere hundreds.
Most were common on Irish farms up until the 1950s, but intensive agricultural practices taking hold back then dramatically changed the landscape of smallholdings. Smallholdings are typically farms supporting a single family with a mixture of cash crops and subsistence farming.
The joint report points to the need for an immediate appointment of a full-time secretariat to coordinate the development of a much-needed national rare-breeds strategy.
The same report also calls for the establishment of an “Irish Center for Genetic Conservation and Research” that includes specialist genetics labs to help revive breeds that are struggling as well as protection for existing herds. Newbridge Demense in north County Dublin, and Connemara National Park, were recommended for becoming specialist centers for the proposed project.
Endangered Native Species
The authors caution that native breeds considered rare are “in a perilous state” but added, “there are identifiable accomplishments that suggest an Irish rare breed renaissance is possible.”
Several volunteer societies working toward protecting rare breeds on the Emerald Isle have been pushing to raise awareness of individual stock strains. Efforts in some recent cases have reportedly started to pay off.
For instance, the “Old Irish” goat, Ireland’s indigenous landrace breed, was thriving up until the early 1900s when they numbered a quarter million strong, but their populations were decimated in the decades that followed. Considered critically endangered and only found in remote mountain ranges roaming in feral herds, the introduction of 25 of the animals to Howth Head in Co. Dublin in 2021 is helping to breathe new life into the breed.
Protecting Irish Heritage
Newbridge Demense is a heritage house and farm in north Co. Dublin which has a collection of native Irish breeds for the public to visit.
“The importance of these Irish heritage breeds spans well beyond science and agriculture,” Minister Darragh O’Brien stated. “They are part of Ireland’s rich history, culture, and folklore, and I am committed to working together to protect that heritage.”
Fingal County Council and the NPWS are proposing that Newbridge Demense and Connemara National Park become living heritage centers for rare breed rejuvenation projects. In summary, the report recommends short-term measures that include the establishment of a Cladoir Sheep walk and Connemara Pony trail at Connemara National Park.Whizzco