are Landraces and where are they grown in Scotland?
The terms 'landrace' and 'traditional
variety' are often used interchangeably and the boundary between
them is blurred. However, for the purposes of this website,
landraces, traditional varieties and modern varieties are separately
Landraces are variable populations with a distinct identity,
have a long history of local cultivation and seed production,
and are well adapted to local environmental conditions. Although
landraces are genetically diverse, they have not been produced
by breeding (deliberate crossing of specific characteristics),
but are maintained by continual regeneration of seed by local
Seed may or may not be sold commercially and the harvest product
may have multiple uses e.g. food and forage. Landraces may
be grown in mixtures using traditional methods of cultivation,
although crop husbandry can also be modern.
Populations of the same landrace grown in different localities
may have different identities and may contain a unique mixture
of different plants.
The survival of landraces is dependent on a continual cycle
of regeneration and sowing; if seed harvest fails, the landrace
will be lost unless a sample of the population has been conserved
in ex situ storage.
Traditional or Heritage varieties are considered to be primitive
(as opposed to modern) and maintained by continued deliberate
selection of desirable characteristics which broadly retain
their expression wherever they are grown. Regeneration may be
in a different locality from where it is used and seed is often
sold commercially; the crop harvest product (rather than seed)
may be sold for a particular use e.g. food, forage, thatching,
distilling or brewing. Many traditional varieties were in commercial
agriculture prior to the introduction of patents or Plant Breeders'
Modern varieties are produced by deliberate crossing and are
highly uniform, uniformity being achieved by the production
of F1 Hybrids or by selection and regeneration of single seeds
from the original parental cross (single seed descent method).
Regeneration is usually remote from the growing environment
and seed is sold commercially and may be protected by patents
or Plant Breeders' Rights.
Where are landraces grown in Scotland?
With the exception of Scots Timothy, which is still grown
in Stirlingshire, landraces have all but disappeared from
mainland Scotland. The most remote Scottish islands have become
refuges for their use; in the Outer Hebrides, substantial
areas of small oat or Corce Beag, rye and bere barley landraces
are grown, often together in mixtures; on the Shetland islands,
Shetland cabbage, Shetland oats (small oat) and bere barley
are grown; on the Orkney islands, Shetland oat (small oat)
and bere barley are grown.
Bere barley and small oat are probably the oldest surviving
agricultural plants in Scotland and have been described as
the main crops for the Hebrides in the seventeenth and eighteenth
There may be more landraces (different crops) grown in different
localities that have not been detected, so staff working in
the Scottish Agricultural College and the Scottish agriculture
departments are being asked to contribute information about
the distribution of existing or undiscovered landraces growing
in Scotland; the collection of seed for ex situ storage through
participation in the Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme will
also be encouraged.
Why do we want to conserve landraces?
- The Scottish
Government has a commitment to conserve its plant
genetic resources through its obligations to international
treaties to which the United Kingdom has signed [the
International Undertaking (IU) 1986, The
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 1992,
Global Plan of Action (GPA) 1996, and the International
Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
- Like many
native animal breeds, landraces have become very rare,
and like many rare breeds, landraces represent genetic
resources of unknown diversity. In mainland Scotland
landraces have been replaced, firstly by traditional
or primitive varieties in the late 19th and early
20th centuries, and more recently by modern varieties
produced by plant breeders in the latter half of the
20th century. We need to collect seed of landraces
and record their morphological and molecular characteristics
and also evaluate their potential for use.
how the different populations vary will help us to
develop strategies for their conservation and for
their local use.
- As landraces
are variable populations, they may have future value
in being able to adapt to climate change more rapidly
than it takes to breed new varieties.
- Continued growing and regeneration
of landraces not only plays a role in local agriculture,
but also in maintaining sensitive habitats such as
- Landraces have cultural value as
part of our agricultural heritage.
Camacho Villa, C.T., Maxted, N., Scholten, M. and Ford Lloyd,
B. 2006. Defining and identifying crop
landraces. Plant Genetic resources
3 (3): 373-384.