The Albion cattle breed has just been recognised as a UK native rare breed for the first time since the 1960’s, making it onto the critical category of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) Watchlist – the highest category for cows with fewer than 150 breeding females in the UK. The biggest breeding herd is living on a National Trust farm near Windermere.
A very popular and commercial breed in the 1920s and 1930s, the combined effects of changing farming systems and a foot and mouth epidemic in the 1960s almost wiped out this dual-purpose breed, farmed for its milk and beef. Today, the largest herd, with 24 breeding females, resides at the National Trust’s High Lickbarrow Farm near Windermere.
The farm came to the National Trust in October 2015 following the death of local donor Michael Bottomley. He gifted it to the Trust to ensure the remarkable biodiversity found on the farm was maintained and, with this, the unusual herd of Albions.
The National Trust has welcomed 20 new Albion female calves in the last three years, selling some on to other farmers across England as well as keeping a select few to grow into future breeders. Bulls are swapped between herds to stop the off spring from becoming too inbred. The Trust has also played a part in working with the Albion Cattle Society to gain recognition for the breed.
John Pring, Farm and Countryside Manager for High Lickbarrow and one of a handful of breeders that have kept the breed going, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Albion cow has been officially recognised as a breed and great to know that there will be added support from the RBST to safeguard their future.”
“Albion’s have become a much loved feature on farms over the last 30 years. They’re known to have a gentle temperament which has made them ideal conservation grazers at High Lickbarrow and Moorhow, managing the grass in a nature friendly way which allows the native wildflowers to flourish. We’ve seen many species return to the fields, such as Dyers Greenweed which was formerly abundant on the farm but not present when we took the spot on.”
Gail Sprake, Chairman of RBST said, “Here at RBST we proudly boast that no breed has become extinct since we formed in 1973, but we could so easily have been proven wrong by failing to recognise these cattle. The Albions have had dramatic reversal of fortune since their heyday in the 1920s, but we hope that this recognition will herald the start of a new chapter for the breed.”
Earlier this year, Countryfile presenter and farmer Adam Henson purchased a herd of Albions which now live at Cotswold Farm Park – a farm with strong connections to conservation, nature farming and biodiversity. The National Trust says farming shapes much of the Lake District landscape.
Nature friendly farming is about restoring a sustainable balance where farming works with nature to deliver public goods, such as food and clean water, in ways that care for and protect wildlife and the environment for many future generations to come. Cotswold Farm Park and High Lickbarrow Farm are two places where the public can see this in action and admire the incredibly endangered Albions.