THEY are as Scottish as a purple heather hillside or a box of tartan shortbread.

Black and tan Gordon Setters were once among the gundogs of choice on the shooting estates of the Highlands.

Now - long after the Victorian heyday of the partridge shooting for which it was bred - the dog is officially “at risk”.

The Kennel Club says registrations of pedigree Gordon Setter puppy registrations has collapsed by 60 per cent over the last six years.

So the estate where the breed was first developed - Gordon Castle near Fochabers in Moray - has decided to save the animal for posterity.

Estate owners Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox are inviting Gordon Setter owners to their castle in May to feature in the Gordon Castle Highland Games.

Mr Gordon Lennox said: “The Gordon Setter breed was developed in the late 18th century by my ancestor, the 4th Duke of Gordon, on this estate.

“We still have the original kennels the dogs were bred in at Kennels Cottage, now available as a holiday rental.

“We hope that by arranging a gathering during our popular Highland Games day we can educate visitors about this fantastic breed and in turn, inspire them to consider owning one in the future.

“We must all work together to keep our native breeds thriving for centuries to come.”

The Gordon Setter has already lost sister breeds, such as the English water spaniel, and the Kennel Club is concerned about a number of British and Irish breeds.

Labradors have come to dominate the market for hunting dogs. People who still use dogs on estates insist the Gordon Setter is just not as good at its job as the more popular breed.

Charlie Thorburn of Mordor Gundogs, told Scottish Field: ‘They aren’t that good at working. “People are finding that other breeds do the same job better.

“The Labrador, for example, is a relatively modern breed – but they’re just better at the job. These other breeds have been replaced.”

The Gordon Setter is not the only breed to lose out. Registrations of the Scottish Terrier are down by down by 51 per cent and Bearded Collie by 48 per cent.

With native breeds taking a back seat, it said, foreign ‘fashionable’ breeds have topped the popularity charts with French Bulldogs leading the way. It is not easy to fit a big Gordon Setter in your handbag on a Hollywood red carpet.

Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, said: “Some people aren’t looking for anything other than a Labrador, while others are simply looking to celebrities to affect their choice. For the most part, though, I think people have simply forgotten about these vulnerable breeds. People just don’t know they exist.”

As of 2017 there were 255 registered Gordon Setter puppies, according to a Kennel Club census of rare breeds. Another Scottish breed, the Dandie Dinmont terrier, bred to hunt badgers in the Borders, is even rarer. There were only 130 wee Dandies recorded by the club in 2017.

This is a breed named after a character in the Walter Scott novel Guy Mannering, part of an 18th and 19th century British breeding boom which gave the world many of its best known dogs. Dandie Dinmonts are best known for their topknot of hair and are thought to be related to Border Terriers.

Borders, along with West Highland Terriers, are the only Scottish breeds to make it in to Scotland’s most popular dogs, according to the Kennel Club. The most popular pedigree north of the border? The Labrador Retriever, as in much of the rest of the UK.

The classic Canadian breed came ahead of the English cocker spaniel, the French bulldog, the English springer spaniel and the German shepherd.

The French bulldog is becoming increasingly popular

A club has also been set up to save the Dandie Dinmont as it joins other Scots breeds in trying to compete with foreign imports. Some dog experts admit that some Scottish breeds are now so uncommon rare they won’t be recognised at Crufts

That is not true of one of the aninals now most at risk. Few breeds, however, capture the Scottish imagination quite like the Skye Terrier.

With their distinctive long fringe making them look like 1970s rockers, Skyes were really fashionable in the 1800s.

This is the breed of Edinburgh’s incredibly loyal Greyfriars Bobby, the pet who slept by the Victorian grave of his owner John Gray for 14 years.

Yet they have been in decline since the ban on otter hunting in the 1970s. Only 40 Skye terriers puppies registered in the UK in 2017. That makes them Scotland’s most endangered pet species.

Dogs in England face similar challenges. There were only 53 curly-coated retrievers registered in 2017. This breed was once a staple of the waterfowl hunting scene. Overall, the Kennel Club lists 30 British and Irish dog breeds which achieve under 300 puppy registrations every year.

Gordon Castle will arrange the largest ever gathering of Gordon Setters on May 19.