A FARMER from Grassington has been elected as the new chairman of the Dales support group for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Helen Wray, of Gam Farm Rare Breeds, says she is thrilled to be playing a major part in the national charity that works to save and safeguard the future of native breeds of livestock and horses, including saddleback pigs, Wensleydale sheep and Dales ponies.

As chairman of the Dales support group, she will be in charge of one of the largest areas of all the trust’s groups, representing the charity across the Yorkshire Dales.

Helen is a dedicated champion for rare breeds, farming a wide range of native breeds of livestock at Gam Farm including 180 Whitefaced Woodland sheep and 50 Northern Dairy Shorthorn cattle.

She also farms Wensleydale Longwool sheep, Bagot goats, Tamworth pigs and Middle White pigs.

“As Chairman of the RBST Dales Support Group I am thrilled to act for the many passionate and dedicated farmers, smallholders and supporters in Yorkshire who work every day to safeguard the future of our amazing native breeds,” said Helen.

“This is an exciting time for the charity and for rare breeds, with post-Brexit farming policy, changes in society and scientific innovation all creating new opportunities to boost the prospects of our native breeds. Our Dales Support Group has a crucial role to play.”

The Dales group creates a network that helps RBST members in or near the area work together to boost rare breeds’ chances of survival.

It monitors the localised prospects and challenges for rare breeds, helps deliver conservation programmes, runs a programme of - currently virtual- social events, and encourages new interest in keeping native breeds.

The commercial viability of a native breed of livestock is essential for the breed’s survival, and Helen has a wealth of practical experience in finding the strongest opportunities for rare breeds in modern markets.

This includes supplying high end restaurants in Leeds and Halifax with her slow-grown, grass fed Gam Farm rare breed meat, and selling native breed wools through the Gam Farm wool shop.

She also has first hand experience of how native breeds of livestock and horses can be used to support the natural environment, not only at Gam Farm but also in supplying primitive sheep for conservation grazing to promote biodiversity and natural land management on the Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve at Catterick Garrison, near Harrogate.

Helen said: “Securing the future of rare breeds is a long-term mission and the Dales support group can draw on the wonderful resource of a raft of committed and experienced breeders as well as a flurry of young breeders and farmers we have recently welcomed, who are exploring fantastic ways to keep native breeds relevant and commercially valuable for today and for tomorrow.

“Our group is energized by the potential created by this combination of long-learned expertise on getting the best out of these wonderful breeds alongside new ideas for commercial ventures that put native breeds to the fore.

“And this is all set in the context of increasing consumer preference for high quality local produce and growing recognition at Government level of the environmental benefits our native breeds can deliver. “

She added: “We are developing exciting plans for the future, we are making a real difference for these rare breeds and getting a lot of enjoyment at the same time, and we welcome anyone who is interested in joining us to contact us and find out more.”

Christopher Price, chief executive of the trust, said: “I am delighted that supporters of native breeds across the Dales will benefit from the expertise, experience and enthusiasm that Helen brings to the role of chairman of the RBST Dales Support Group.

“She has exciting plans that will not only give RBST members in the region fantastic support at a local level, but will also ensure that the great work happening in Yorkshire plays a leading role in our work nationally to safeguard the future of native breeds.

“I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to Helen’s predecessor, Clare Shevelan, for all her crucial work which has had such an important positive impact on the survival of rare breeds in the Dales and beyond.”

To find out more about the RBST Dales support group, look for it on social media.