Marsh Award for Conservation in Genetic Bio-Diversity

This Award has been running since 1996 and recognises an individual or group who have made a significant technical and scientific or practical contribution to the field of genetic bio-diversity.

Nominations for the Award are put forward to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and are judged in partnership with the MCT.

Nigel Overend 2022

Nigel has a particular interest and special knowledge of British Landrace pigs. He has gone out of his way to improve the way that boars are selected for RBST’s Gene Bank and combines this with his on farm conservation projects. Nigel has been particularly active over the past several years, recycling a number of males lines of British Landrace that are no longer in the RBST Herd Book to use both in this own herd and externally to spread the breed’s genetics around the country. He continues to work on spreading the female lines around the UK to ensure greater geographic diversity of this breed. Alongside his work with the Landrace, Nigel also owns Origin Genetics, a company which provides a unique resource to rare breed pig keepers. As well as storing genetic information for the future in the Gene Bank, Nigel also enables breeders to access vital genetics for use in artificial insemination. Due to his continued efforts and contributions, phase 1 of the RBST Pig Gene Bank project is nearing completion. 

Previous Winners

Stephen Hall

Stephen is extremely active in the field of genetic biodiversity conservation and has published a number of works on this subject. One of his publications, Livestock Biodiversity: Genetic Resources for the Farming of the Future, was incredibly well-received and well-cited. In the book, he collates scientific facts and contributions on livestock biodiversity from various disciplines to raise awareness of the challenges for the future. 

Stephen has shown a particular interest in native breeds of livestock. He is Chairman of the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, has served on the Government’s Farm Animal Genetic Resources Committee and has been a long standing and active supporter of the Rare Breed Survival Trust.


In particular, his experience and expertise were invaluable in the review of the RBST Watchlist, helping the staff team put it on an appropriate and contemporary footing so as to significantly enhance its use as tool aiding livestock conservation.

Marcus Bates

Marcus has worked tirelessly, above and beyond the scope of his job to ensure that the pig gene bank goes from strength to strength. Following Foot and Mouth in 2001, he worked with the late Robert Overend to set up the gene bank at a time when frozen pig semen was not widely accepted. However, through his vision and enthusiasm, it is the envy of many other breed societies. Works for British Pig Association. 

Dr John Fletcher

The Chillingham herd of Wild White Cattle has lived for many centuries in isolation in a historic parkland in Northumberland. Apart from a reserve herd in Scotland, there are no other animals of this breed. Dr John Fletcher retires in 2019 as a Trustee of the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, having been in post since 2002. He has provided indispensable advice on veterinary and management matters during this period.

From 2015, John organised and directed a programme of embryo recovery from Chillingham cows which he recently brought to a successful conclusion with embryos and semen being stored in liquid nitrogen. Creating this ‘frozen herd’ required complicated negotiations with several regulatory authorities, and the overcoming of considerable technical difficulties, many of them due to the extreme inbreeding of these cattle. As a result of John’s work, the Chillingham breed is now more secure and important experience has been gained regarding the cryoconservation of rare breeds of cattle more generally.

Christine Williams

Christine has been the main source of information, history and breeding advice about Soay and Boreray Sheep for many years. Her flocks have been bred carefully and have been used to help set up flocks all over the country. She has also rescued the oldest established flock of Soays and continues to breed and register the flock as a separate genetic resource.

Christine runs a large ram flock, where rams are loaned (free of charge) to be used to help other breeders maintain the diversity within the breed. She encourages practices such as keeping ewe lambs with their mothers for the first 18 months which helps to bond the animals and restrict the number of females any one ewe can breed. This encourages genetic variation, with no individual animal being too highly represented in the next generation.

Christine’s work into the origins of the Boreray culminated in a trip to Orkney in 2017, when she was 82 years old, to inspect a flock of previously unregistered animals that had been carefully bred in Scotland since the 1970s.

Dr Mike McGrew and Julian Hosking

Dr Mike McGrew is based at The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, which is highly regarded in the genetics world. He has recently made major technical, scientific and practical steps in the field of cryogenic storage of viable avian genetics. Mike’s work has resulted in the possibility of starting a poultry gene bank, which would safeguard the genetic bio-diversity of at risk native poultry breeds. Given the present UK wide outbreak of Avian Flu, this work is all the more important.

The ‘frozen aviary’ that Mike has created will act as a seed bank for poultry, storing stem cells which produce eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring. To date, Mike and his team have collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds which will be viable for decades. Mike wants to expand his work to include, in particular, rare varieties of geese and the RBST are keen to work with him to do so.

Julian Hosking worked for English Nature (which then became Natural England) from 1998 until his retirement in 2016. During his career, he ceaselessly campaigned, both in a professional and private capacity, for native breeds of farm livestock to be valued and considered as part of the UK’s biodiversity.

In 2005, Julian was integral to the introduction of the Native Breeds at Risk grazing supplement as part of the Common Agricultural Policy reform. This achievement has been maintained in the latest round of subsidy reform, despite some opposition. The supplement has been of real and practical benefit to many rare breeds, and for the first time offered a financial incentive for UK farmers to reintroduce native breeds to their farms, and several previously rare breeds have become ‘success stories’ as a result.

Julian is an active, helpful and courteous member of RBST and the Grazing Animals Project. As a member of the DEFRA Farm Animal Genetic Resources Committee, Julian has provided a vital link between rare breed keepers, conservation practitioners and the Government, so that real change and improvements can be made.

Andrew Sheppy

The late Andrew Sheppy was a founding member of the Rare Poultry Society, the Cobthorn Trust and the RBST, where he served as a Council member for almost 20 years and chaired their Poultry Specialist Committee. He was also a serving member of the National Steering Committee on Farm Animal Genetic Resources and was a contributor to the National Report published by DEFRA in 2002. His work with the Cobthorn Trust was of particular note and he was heavily involved with the characterisation and maintenance of farm animal genetic resources through direct breeding programmes and advisory work.

Andrew was responsible for solving the genetics of a serious defect in Dexter Cattle, which the Cobthorn Trust have bred since 1976. The Trust want to maintain as much of the historic bloodline as possible and of the 6 original 100% bloodlines remaining in the UK, four can be found at Cobthorn. He was also linked with the veterinary college at Bristol University and delivered lecture on rare breeds and conservation and welcomed students to his farm for practical experience.

Libby Henson

Libby has shown a lifelong interest in the genetic conservation of rare livestock breeds in the UK and abroad. She was Chief Executive of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, a Trustee of the RBST for 10 years and a member of the National Expert Committee on Farm Animal Genetic Resources.

Libby has used her passion to develop software designed to answer the most important questions about a breed’s genetic health, which enables RBST and other breed societies to accurately advise breeders on their choice of breeding stock. Her knowledge of science and the practicalities behind rare livestock breeding make her an invaluable asset to rare breeds conservation. She gives her time and advice freely to farmers and brings together the scientific, technical and practical aspects of rare livestock breeding.

Michael Dewhurst

Michael first studied the genetics of Exmoor ponies at Liverpool University and continues to monitor the genetic diversity of the breed, providing guidance and support to breeders. He is a valuable member of the Breed Society Council and has delivered presentations at their AGMs to provide information on the genetic viability of the Exmoor pony and the genetics that are poorly represented.

Michael is a practising veterinary surgeon and has provided assistance to the owners od mares with some of the least represented genetics which often do not appear in foal. As a result of this work and through the RBST semen bank, there are now foals with these genetics. He has also used his skills and knowledge to lease or purchase mares that are genetically important and go on to breed them.

Professor John Woolliams

John is a quantitative geneticist at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh working on theoretical and applied aspects of genetics in managed populations. He is a leading authority on the genetic management of breeds of farm livestock with small populations and his genetics research extends across many livestock species and combines elements of genomics and genetics.

John’s work has furthered our understanding of DNA and genetics, particularly the mechanisms and implications of how linked genes are passed on in livestock populations, and has contributed to the advance of DNA technologies. He has worked closely with industry partners and has helped to advise breed societies on the risks of introducing undesirable characteristics or of losing genetic variation. He freely offers advice to the RBST and is one of the Trust’s ‘turn-to’ experts when advice on genetic matters is required.

Tullis Matson

Tullis has been the lead behind technological advances in the field of equine semen collection and freezing in the UK and has worked hard to further the knowledge of these processes. His work has broadened the range of extenders now being used in equine semen freezing and enabled some breeds, such as the Hackney, to be collected and successfully frozen for the first time. Tullis guest lectures at a number of institutions and runs training courses to pass on his research and techniques to others. He has enabled certain breeds and bloodlines to be included in the RBST gene bank and has helped raise the profile and confidence in the use of frozen stallion AI, which was not trusted in the past.

Andy Dell and Dr Bill Grayson

Andy Dell – Technical

Andy began studying Cleveland Bay horses in 1997 and developed SPARKS, a pioneering breeding strategy which was later officially adapted as an advised breeding programme. He has continued his research into population genetics of this breed of horses and has given lectures to members in the UK and North America. He has increased knowledge and understanding of the breed, and greatly improved breeding decisions.

Dr Bill Grayson – Practical

Bill has a doctorate in grazing ecology and is an Honorary Research Fellow at Lancaster University. However, he is better known for his practical management skills and expertise in organic farming and conservation grazing.

HRH Prince Charles and Dr June Morris

Dr June Morris – Technical

June has been involved with the community of North Ronaldsay for over twenty years and has developed a unique understanding and insight into the origins of the North Ronaldsay sheep, its adaptation to the seashore environment and its place in the economy of the remote island community. She has established her own flock and plays an active role in island life, making first hand observations and writing regular articles for the journal of the North Ronaldsay Sheep Fellowship. June regularly speaks at meetings and conferences and uses her scientific grasp of conservation issues to the benefit of practical sheep keepers on the island and more distant shores.

HRH Prince Charles – Practical

The Portland Sheep Breeders' Group and Mike Roper of DEFRA

The Portland Sheep Breeders’ Group – Practical

The Portland Sheep Breeders’ Group received the Award for outstanding performance in the conservation, pure breeding, promotion and marketing of the Portland Sheep and its products.

Mike Roper – Technical

Mike Roper of Defra is the UK National Co-ordinator for Farm Animal Genetic Resources and had a big impact on the involvement of Government in conservation and sustainable use of Farm Animal Genetic Resources.

Home Farm, Temple Newsham Estate and Dr Saffron Townsend and Dr JR Walters

Dr Ian Gill and Geoffrey Cloke

Dr Ian Gill -Technical

Ian worked as Head of the Department of Genetics at the University of Liverpool and is a former member of Council and Chairman of the RBST. At Liverpool he organised a series of genetics workshops on the conservation of endangered breeds, which gave a valuable introduction to the techniques of genetic conservation. Ian also carried out genetic analyses on several rare breeds listed by the RBST and encouraged his students to specialise in studies of rare breeds. He played a leading role in the preparation of the breeding programme for Irish Moiled cattle and assisted the development of many breed support programmes.

Geoffrey Cloke – Practical

Geoffrey has been making a significant contribution to the conservation of endangered breeds of farm livestock, especially native pig breeds, since before the RBST was formed. He has a long record of service on the Trust Council and committees, twice being Chairman of Council and serving as Chairman of the Important Conservation Committee for 14 years. Geoffrey launched the Traditional Breeds Meat Marketing Scheme and led the team that obtained samples for the European Pig Biodiversity project. Geoffrey is the leading authority on pig and poultry breeds and has been President of the British Pig Association and the European Federation of Pig Breeders.

Robert Overend and Sue Stennett

Robert Overend – Technical

As Chairman of the British Pig Association, Robert has had a lifelong interest in rare breeds of pigs and has done much to secure their future. Therefore, he was instrumental in the Regeneration Appeal that the RBST launched in 2001 during the FMD epidemic, when it became clear to how vulnerable rare breeds of animals were in the face of such a virulent disease.  He owns the Deerpark Al Stud in Northern Ireland which he offered to the RBST to start the programme of semen collection. As a result of his commitment to rare breeds of pigs and acknowledged expertise in collecting and freezing boar semen, the Trust has for the first time a collection of high quality, viable semen, collected and frozen to EU standards.

Sue Stennett – Practical

Sue joined the RBST in 1982 and, along with her husband Alan, keeps Portlands, Norfolk Horns and North Ronaldsey sheep and traditional Lincoln Red Cattle. She was instrumental in the negotiations which resulted in Lincolns coming under the Traditional Breed scheme and receiving help to conserve 100% animals. After helping found the Lincolnshire Support Group in 1984, Sue has taken a special interest in Support Groups, chairing the national Representative Meeting and serving on various RBST committees. Sue passionately believes that the RBST needs to reach out to young people and she has chaired the RBST Education forum since 2001, working with education professionals to produce educational materials about rare breeds for schools.

Debbie Davy

Debbie is committed to safeguarding the future of the Exmoor Pony. She keeps her ponies in natural conditions on an isolated Scottish peninsula, observing how their performance varies between family lines and providing a practical demonstration of the ponies’ usefulness, using them for transport to school, delivering post and collecting refuse. Debbie is the Exmoor Pony Society’s representative in Scotland and has managed to make the widely dispersed Scottish members feel part of a ‘local’ group.

Debbie has made an important contribution to understanding the genetic structure of the breed, helping to identify surviving female lines within the population. She has applied this work in a practical way by bringing ponies of poorly represented female lines into her own herd and encouraging others in the same approach to genetic conservation.

Arthur Green

Arthur is an active member of the Cheshire RBST Support Group and has promoted the work of the RBST locally and nationally by taking a display to a local event or setting out the merchandise for the National Show and Sale at Stoneleigh.

Since retiring, Arthur has given even more time to the work of the RBST and in 2000 wrote to all breed secretaries to try and make the classed bigger at the Cheshire show. This is one of the many shows he works on and Arthur has been key to its expansion and continuing success. Arthur is a member of the Cheshire County Show Committee and is the organiser and Chief Steward of the Rare Breeds section of the show.

John Thornborrow

John has been a pedigree livestock auctioneer all his life and handled the RBST Annual Show and Sale for more than 20 years. He has given a great amount of his time, expertise and experience to the RBST to develop the Show and Sale into the premier event of its kind in Europe, and enable the distribution of the special genes possessed by rare breeds.

HM Prison Hewell Grange, Worcestershire

The Prison Service has been a prominent figure in rare breeds conservation for many years and more than a dozen of its establishments are members of the RBST, including Hollesley Bay at Woodbridge in Suffolk which keeps a significant stud of Suffolk horses.

HM Prison Hewell Grange has kept different species for a number of years, including Kerry cattle and is a fine representative of the Prison Service to be recognised for its contribution to rare breeds conservation.

Denis Vernon

Denis has made a significant voluntary contribution to the RBST over the past 20 years. He has been Treasurer since 1977 and his conscientious stewardship of the position has ensured that the Trust have been able to carry out their programme of work with maximum effectiveness. He has also given his time to the Trust in many other ways, carrying out inspections of centres and regional activities where it is necessary to maintain standards required by the Trust.

Ken Briggs

Ken became a member of the RBST soon after its formation and since then has contributed significantly to rare breeds conservation and Trust activities, as an animal inspector, steward, judge and as a member of various committees. Since 1977, he has led the working party which each year visits Linga Holm in Orkney to round up, shear and cull the Trust’s flock of North Ronaldsey Sheep.