Big Star and rare breeds share the spotlight on Countryfile

  • Star sires were in the spotlight as BBC One’s Countryfile visited Stallion AI Services.

    A rare Eriskay pony, Big Star, a Shire and Gem Twist’s clone Murka’s Gem all featured on this week’s show, which aired yesterday (7 January).

    Presenter Adam Henson, whose father Joe was a founder of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) visited the Shropshire base to find out how the business is helping preserve endangered breeds.

    Tullis Matson of Stallion AI spoke of the critical numbers some breeds have reached and the work his company and the RBST is doing to prevent further decline.

    “There’s just over 900 female [breeding Shires] left in the country, so yes there’s a few about, but it won’t take long for the breed [numbers] to get smaller and smaller, the genetic pool to shrink and then we have other issues as well,” he said.

    “[The Eriskay] really are on the border-line of extinction.

    “They could be [lost for ever] if we don’t do something about it — they are really lovely animals and it would be a real great shame to lose them.”

    He added technology has “come on so much” that they are able to preserve semen samples in ways that did not exist even five years ago.

    Adam said it is “companies like this that are giving many of our rare breeds a fighting chance of survival”.

    Tom Beeston of the RBST said the charity’s gene bank is preserving eggs, semen and embryos of all sorts of rare breeds and species.

    “We have about 70 horses across the 13 breeds [on the RBST’s watchlist] in the gene bank already,” he told viewers.

    “But we need 350 in there, so that’s £1.5million to £2million we need just for the equines.”

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    Adam also met Big Star and Nick Skelton on his trip to Stallion AI.

    He was the superstar, I was just the pilot,” said Nick in response to Adam’s praise for the combination’s two Olympic gold medals.

    Nick added Big Star already has progeny on the ground in the UK, the eldest of whom is four years old, and that last year one of the legendary stallion’s foals sold for £90,000.

    “When [Big Star] was competing at the top, before Rio and after London, we were offered a lot of money for him, but the owners — Gary and Beverley Widdowson — didn’t want to sell him,” said Nick.

    “They wanted to keep him for his jumping and also for his career at stud, where he is doing a great job.”

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