Adam Henson: Animals from The Ark

The Ark, 1976

The Ark, 1976 - Credit: Archant

Finding an old magazine reminds Adam Henson that some things haven’t changed 40 years on

It’s almost impossible to be a Henson and not have a passion for Britain’s rare breeds of livestock. My dad helped kick-start the movement to conserve our native varieties of sheep, pigs, goats, cattle and equines in the 1960s; the Cotswold Farm Park was the first attraction of its kind in the world when he opened it in the early 1970s. So the stories of Cotswold sheep, Old Spot pigs, Gloucester cattle and the other wonderful breeds have been my life. But just when you least expect it, you stumble across something that brings back lots of forgotten facts and faded memories. I’ve just come across an old copy of The Ark, the journal of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST). It dates from May 1976 and cost the princely sum of 25 pence. I haven’t seen a copy as old as this for a very long time and flicking through the pages is like opening a time capsule.

The cover photograph shows a very proud looking Kerry Cow with a pair of fine upward-pointing horns and a deep black hide. The breed earned its place on the cover because there was great concern at the time about its survival. Numbers were down to just over 200 and inside the magazine there was a call for more large herds to be established to save the Kerry. There was also a report on the Easter Monday Poultry Show at Malpas, a guide to the best rare breed wool for hand-spinning and a lovely photograph of four Golden Guernsey Goats being bottle fed.

Then the editor got straight to the point in a direct appeal for donations and new members: “Many breeds have already been irrevocably lost, including sheep (Old Galway Horned and Mayo Mountain), pigs (Cumberland, Dorset Gold Tip and the Yorkshire Blue & White) and cattle (Somerset Sheeted and Alderney). How many more will be lost for ever”?

Looking at the events calendar for the year ahead proves just how little has changed over four decades and the extent to which we still love the spectacle and showmanship of a family day out. The list of places where the RBST was staging demonstrations included many events which are as popular today as they were in 1976. Obviously the Three Counties is in the show schedule, held about half-way through the season that year, between 15th and 17th June. It was a memorable time for the Three Counties Agricultural Society because it turned out to be the year that Princess Anne made her first visit to the showground at Malvern. Other RBST highlights on the list were the Devon, Surrey and Staffordshire County Shows. The big regional attractions included the South of England, the East of England and the Bath & West. Then there were the shows which claimed the royal appendage, as they still do today – the Highland, Norfolk, Cornwall and Welsh. Although, I couldn’t help feel a certain sadness at the mention of the Royal Show. I don’t know what the fortunes of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) were in the mid-1970s but by 2009 the annual showcase of farming and rural life at Stoneleigh Park had run its course. Not helped by the disastrous weather which blighted the Royal Show and hit its finances two years earlier. It was a real blow to everyone who loved the event.

Nevertheless, I will treasure my old and slightly dog-eared copy of The Ark from 1976. I’m pleased to say that the magazine, like the Rare Breeds Survival Trust itself, is still going strong. Nearly 40 years on the Trust continues to promote and help conserve Britain’s native livestock as well as giving guidance and advice about the breeds and protecting them for the future with its incredible gene bank of semen, embryos and other genetic samples.


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This article by Adam Henson is from the April 2015 issue of Cotswold Life.