19 June 1998

Highland Show stays cheerful

despite gloomy farm fortunes

The Royal Highland Show, which opens next Thursday (June 25), takes place against a

backdrop of profound uncertainty in farming. FWs Scottish correspondent Allan Wright takes

the pulse of farming north of the border and looks at the changing face of the show itself

THE Royal Highland of the future could be a show of two halves, catering for farmers and the trade for two days, closing for a day to let most of the livestock and machinery leave, and then re-opening for the weekend for the public.

The idea belongs to show manager David Dunsmuir, and is prompted by the number of stock and machinery exhibitors leaving the show after two days.

"Financial pressure and reduced labour forces on farms make it increasingly difficult for farmers to spend what amounts to a full week away at the show," he says.

The alternative to a split show might be to hold a two- or three-day Royal Highland and a town and country event on a separate date.

"There are various rural events which try to attract the public, but Ingliston has to be the prime site for any such effort because we are in the middle of the central belt which contains 70% of the Scottish population," says Mr Dunsmuir. "What we need is a co-operative effort to stage one major town and country-type event."

"Far more waxed jackets are sold to townsfolk than to farmers and there would be no difficulty in bringing the country to the town at Ingliston, given the right sort of format," he adds.

Mr Dunsmuir, whose background is in the RAF and as personal assistant to the Lord Provost of Glasgow, took over the role as Highland Show manager last December.

Downpour cost £100,000

He is happy with the timing, admitting he would not have liked last years to be his first show. The downpour over the weekend cost the society £100,000 in lost attendance and repair work to the show site.

That included new drainage in the main ring and at a depth that would allow an all-weather surface to be installed if needed in the future. In the show jumping ring, an area was covered with two layers of shredded aeroplane tyres through which the grass has now grown.

"That cost a tenth of an all-weather surface and we are confident it will work," says Mr Dunsmuir.

Last years losses have prompted a lighter main ring programme which he is confident will attract the crowds.

"There will be the old favourites such as show jumping and sheepdog handling plus a motor-cycle display, but there will also be new things including a relay race with teams of Clydesdale horses and Shetland ponies and a two-day race between two teams building a log cabin from scratch," says Mr Dunsmuir.

"In the past, building a log cabin and lighting a fire entitled you to the land. So the first team to light a fire in the log cabin will be the winner."

That event is in keeping with renewed interest in farm woodlands and specialist forestry in Scotland. In recognition of that, the forestry area at the show has been doubled.

Mr Dunsmuirs efforts to bring more townsfolk through the Ingliston gates included an inter-city sheep shearing contest last weekend in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. Members of the public were invited to guess the time it would take to shear a number of sheep, with free tickets to the show for prizes.

A major attraction for town and country alike is the Food from Scotland display in the exhibition hall where there is a waiting list of exhibitors.

"We are showing in layman words and graphics that Scottish food production stands up to scrutiny better than any other food in the world," says Mr Dunsmuir.

Financial pressures are making it more difficult to show cattle.

Highland Show manager David Dunsmuir says it could become a show of two halves in the future.