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From this BBC News article:

The wild Carneddau ponies of Snowdonia are a unique breed that need to be protected, say scientists

I was surprised to read need, expecting needs.

Why does it say a breed that need to be protected, and not a breed that needs to be protected?

In this sentence, I think that refers to breed, not to ponies. I'm aware that with British English collective noun rules, sport teams, companies, and probably some other groups, may get a plural verb even if they appear singular (Arsenal rule, BP have made profits, etc.). Does this apply to breed? Or is there a different reason why the verb in the cited sentence is a plural one?

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This appears to be British English rather than American English, but it doesn't jar me at all.

I'd just rewrite the sentence as

The wild Carneddau ponies of Snowdonia are a unique breed needing protection, say scientists.

Otherwise, in American English, you're right: it would have to be:

a breed that needs protection.

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