THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released a stark report outlining the disastrous effects we face if we don’t take immediate action to change the way we live.

Many studies point to meat consumption as being one of the drivers of carbon emissions, and there is no doubt intensive livestock farming is a significant problem, not only in terms of climate change but also in appalling animal welfare, ghastly environmental impacts, and meat of poor quality.

It is this which sees me – a vegetarian of 45 years – campaigning for Scotland’s livestock sector: if people are going to eat meat, it should come from farms common across much of our nation, with livestock contentedly trotting about on land unsuitable for crops, turning rough grazing into nourishment, and supporting biodiversity as they go.

This month, the Rare Breed Survival Trust Scotland (RBST Scotland) is discussing “Farm to Fork – a new sustainable perspective” at Bowhouse, part of the remarkable Balcaskie Estate, where farmers work to bring Scotland’s agricultural heritage to modern tables using the very best of regenerative farming practice.

One aspect of the RBST conference is “Farmers as Marketers”.

The National:

“The supermarket labels don’t really tell you anything,” says Steve McMinn, chair of the RBST Scotland Support Group.

“Farmers need to sell their produce well: it’s not just that you are having a steak, you are having a steak from an animal that has lived in a particular place, has a particular flavour, has a particular part to play in the local environment.

“As climate change impacts our environment, we need the genetics and the bloodlines to ensure we have the biodiversity we need to survive. We need the right breeds in the right places at the right density.

Take the Galloway cattle, for example.

They thrash about in the bracken as they graze on hillsides. Bracken is an invasive species; the Galloways open up ground to allow tree growth and other species to gain a foothold.”

It is this ability to thrive on rough grazing, out in all weathers, which is making farmers look again at native breeds. The continental breeds may grow bigger and faster, but they often need additional housing, and can require expensive feed.

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“We’re finding there is a significant upturn in interest from farmers looking at the books, seeing the input costs, and realising that, although the sale price from the larger breeds is higher, the profits aren’t as good. We’re seeing a lot of new entrant farmers going straight into native breeds,” explains Christopher Price, RBST Chief Executive.

“I think there is a great future for native breeds, they are low input, they are great for sustainable farming, and they deliver a premium product with a clear provenance from high welfare farms.

"We do need supports in place for farmers to go over to native breeds. That already is happening in England and Wales; farmers there get a full package, from payments to advice. It would be good to see that in Scotland too.”

Many prefer to speak of “native” rather than “rare”, to emphasise the breeds are not exotic aliens but a part of our landscape, in some cases for thousands of years.

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However, it is a shocking reality that we have come dangerously close to losing some of the creatures which ran alongside our ancestors, in some form or another, since before the standing stones were raised.

Jane Cooper is working tirelessly to bring the Boreray, a magnificently horned primitive Scottish sheep, back from the brink. The Orkney Boreray flocks are now nearing 100 breeding ewes.

It is an irony that, in order to save breeds from extinction, they need to be eaten.

However, the chronic lack of abattoir provision across Scotland is acting as barrier to success, adding hundreds of miles and many hundreds of pounds to the process of slaughter.

“Farmers across Scotland are crying out for more abattoirs. People coming to the islands often can’t find iconic Orkney mutton here,” Jane says. “Each breed has its own distinctive flavour and terroir which gives a wonderful diversity to our diet.

“At every level, people are wanting local produce. Visitors could be out looking at the native breeds during the day and then sampling them in local restaurants, buying meats to take away with them. We are missing a huge economic opportunity.”

If Scotland is to have a sustainable meat industry which works with the environment and safeguards our vital living gene bank, not only do our farmers need to learn how to be marketers and find ways of selling to an interested and engaged public, we need to have crucial infrastructure in place, reducing stress on the creatures making their final journeys, cutting food miles, and ensuring communities have the basic facilities they need for people and planet to thrive.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign