Shock as popular Welsh section B put on rare breeds ‘at risk’ register

  • The Welsh section B has been classified as “rare” for the first time, following a decline in numbers.

    The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) released its 2024–25 watch list today (17 April). A sustained decline in Welsh section B dams producing registered progeny – from 1,044 in 2009 to below 400 in 2023 – that the breed is now considered to be rare.

    The watch list uses a traffic-light system to identify breeds of most and least concern. These are “priority” (red), “at risk” (amber) and “UK breeds” (green).

    The RBST approached the Welsh Pony & Cob Society (WPCS) last year, as part of a native equine conservation project. The society provided the trust with data for all the Welsh breed sections, and the section B has now been highlighted as being “at risk”. The two organisations are collaborating to help reverse the decline.

    WPCS chairman Ed Gummery welcomed the results of the RBST’s research into populations of Welsh breeds, adding that the findings relating to the section B are “particularly thought-provoking”.

    “Our breed society has reached a crossroads affected by many global factors, but is the first time any of the Welsh sections have been recorded as ‘at risk’ on the RBST watch list since the Welsh mountain hill pony some 25 years ago, and this presents a further challenge,” said Mr Gummery.

    “As a society, we will be using the RBST’s findings to positive effect, and are already looking at ways to promote the breed, which will instantly trigger the anticipated review of some recent show decisions as the society had been awaiting this expected report and digested the subsequent findings.

    “Urgent and priority reconsideration must now be given to encourage breeding programmes and to ensure that we encourage exhibitors of Welsh section Bs continue to come forward to our affiliated events to showcase their stock.”

    RBST chief executive Christopher Price said the watch list process helps the trust “pick up on concerning trends early, such as the marked decline in section B dams”.

    “The section B Welsh pony is a fantastic breed, really intelligent and adaptable, well suited for children but also at home in the show ring or driving,” He said. “Its addition to the watch list today is the start of an increase in activity in collaboration with breed societies, conservationists, farm parks and the wider RBST membership to help reverse this decline.”

    There is positive news for the New Forest, Dartmoor and Exmoor breeds in this year’s watch list. The “at risk” New Forest pony is “performing very well” and the RBST said if current trends continue, it “could move out of the rare categories in coming years”.

    Stable numbers have been recorded for Dartmoor ponies, solidifying the positive trends and genetic diversity improvements that resulted in its move from the “priority” to “at risk” categories in last year’s watchlist. Exmoor ponies have also had “a welcome improvement”, as the number of dams has increased by 28% from 2022 to 2024.

    Mr Price said the improvements reflect the “strong successes” of breeding programmes and conservation activities of recent years.

    “This good news is testament to the dedication of all those working with rare breeds, and the growing appreciation among keepers, riders, land managers and the public that our native equines are great, versatile breeds for modern times,” he said.

    The Cleveland Bay, Suffolk, Hackney, Dales and Eriskay pony remain among the most vulnerable, with work continuing to support and promote these breeds.

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