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NTU researchers to support biggest ever Eriskay pony DNA project

In a ground breaking move the Eriskay Pony Society is engaging with genetics experts at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) to carry out the biggest ever survey of Eriskay Pony DNA, as they work to protect and promote this critically endangered native breed.

Eriskay ponies
Newborn Eriskay filly foal Bydand Correen, out of Altens Alice, originally from Doonies Rare Breed Farm, and Whitney Harrier. Bred in Aberdeenshire by Steve and Ruth McMinn.

Thanks to a successful bid from the Society for funding from the Horserace Betting Levy Board, coupled with a contribution from the Society’s own funds - and following a rigorous assessment of available options - the Society has approached Nottingham Trent University to carry out a comprehensive and detailed DNA analysis of the breed.

The results of this analysis will be used, in conjunction with the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s Equine Conservation project, to help inform all future breeding plans and decision making for this critically endangered breed.

The analysis, being carried out by NTU’s Medical Technologies Innovation Facility (MTIF) and School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, involves Professor Philippe Wilson, Dr Samuel White and Dr Andy Dell.

Catriona Rowan, Chair of the Eriskay Pony Society explained: “This is a very welcome step forward in our efforts to protect and promote this ancient yet versatile breed.

“With such a small gene pool we cannot just rely on the look of ponies and studbook information to make our breeding matches.

“With the help of RBST we have already adopted the SPARKS system of selection which goes some way to prevent inbreeding and help us avoid future problems. However we recognise that science and technology can give us much more accurate understanding of the genetics, flagging up any current or potential future issues and helping us make sure that every animal bred is as healthy and fit for purpose as possible.

“This study, which is open to ANY Eriskay Pony registered with a recognised Eriskay breed Society, either  The Eriskay Pony Society or  Comann Each Nan Eilean (CENE), will give us a great foundation with which to work. It will be a baseline of information for use in our work with the RBST’s Equine Conservation Project which requires us to provide complex information about our genetic profiles.

“We know that the Eriskay Pony has a relatively narrow studbook compared to breeds such as the Cleveland Bay. Narrow pedigrees mean that pedigree analysis alone cannot be relied upon with confidence to estimate inbreeding within the population. Genotyping and sequencing can provide the molecular picture of the genetic health of the breed.

“Our work with Nottingham Trent University will give us assessment of genetic variation and molecular basis of inbreeding within the Eriskay Pony breed which will then be collated in an Eriskay Pony Genetic Archive (EPGA).

“We acquired the HBLB grant to make this analysis possible following a rigorous bidding process, in which we had to submit a detailed and costed proposal and commit a percentage of our own funding.  We’re delighted that we can share access to this project to all pony owners for the overall good of the breed.

“It’s easy for Eriskay owners to get involved.  Simply apply to us by emailing for a testing kit and we will send it free of charge. It’s a simple process using a hair sample, which must be returned to us by the end of July.

“The more samples we have the better the overall picture we can build of the breed and the more useful the information will be. And ANY registered Eriskay Pony can make a contribution, no matter the age or breeding status, so it’s a great way for all owners to support the future of the breed.  We’ll also be happy to collaborate with other breed societies who may wish to participate in this project.

“At every point of the way we’ve taken advice from the RBST, and once we gained the HBLB funding we consulted widely, took expert advice and looked a several options before deciding that the service provided by NTU was the best fit for our purposes.

“We’re confident that this move, together with our wider work in conjunction with other rare equine breed societies in the RBST Equine Conservation Project will move our studbook to a new level of accuracy and lay a good base for further work.”

Nottingham Trent University scientist Professor Philippe Wilson, said: “It is a great pleasure to be working with colleagues to deliver this paradigm-shifting project for the Eriskay breed. We will be employing state of the art genotyping technologies in order to support a detailed understanding of the genetic status of the Eriskay and will work closely with the breed society to really deliver impact directly to the breeders.

“As a direct extension of the work we have undertaken on the Cleveland Bay, we hope to see our population management system and molecular genetics approaches used more widely in native breeds going forward.”

RBST Chief Executive, Christopher Price said: “This genetics project will enable us to obtain a detailed understanding of the breed which can in turn be used to support future work. This work alongside the Equine Conservation Project will be extremely beneficial to the breed. The Eriskay Pony Society have been very strategic in how they have approached this project in terms of identifying a need and obtaining the required funding, an approach that could be utilised by other breed societies."

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Dave Rogers, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email.

    To find out more about the Eriskay Pony Society DNA project:



    Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) is the sole charity dedicated to promoting and preserving the UKs rare and native breeds of farm livestock. Started in 1973, RBST monitors numbers of animals, and threats of inbreeding and geographical concentration. It promotes the breeding and registration of rare and native breeds. Through its 4,500 members, staff and support groups it provides a network of knowledge to support and encourage breeders to reduce these threats. See the website

    The RBST Equine Conservation Project

    Launched in 2022, the aim of the project is to significantly improve RBST’s ability to support both breed societies and individual breeders in the conservation status of our native equine breeds including Eriskay through a three-year, two-part programme.

    There are two broad parts to the project. The first part is concerned with identifying overarching and breed specific issues and conducting an analysis of differing approaches to breeding and reproductive technologies. In the light of this, best practice guidance for establishing breeding strategies will be created and promoted. The second part focuses on the uses of the breeds and the opportunities for extending those uses, so raising the profile of the breeds and increasing their numbers.

    The first year of the project focuses on evidence gathering to better understand the challenges. A reproduction survey, a semen analysis, and a versatility study will be carried out. Detailed individual breed analyses will be undertaken. The year will conclude with a workshop event for breeders and other stakeholders.

    Year Two will focus on what influences breeding decisions and the information used. Using that information, and building on the Year One activities, breeder guides and a Best Practice Tool Kit for breed societies and others will be produced.

    Year Three of the project is concerned with the wider role of native equines in society and encouraging their use.

NTU researchers to support biggest ever Eriskay pony DNA project

Published on 7 June 2022
  • Subject area: Animal, equine and wildlife
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences; School of Science and Technology

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