SDowns lamb initiative
FARMERS on the South Downs are being urged to support a marketing initiative which aims to capitalise on the areas popularity with visitors.
The scheme, which will brand and sell locally-bred and reared lamb, wants to secure a long-term market for livestock producers and bring environmental benefits by keeping the Downs under grass.
Branded meat could be in local butchers as early as September, with supermarkets targeted as throughput grows. Cattle and even game are eventually to be included in the scheme, which initially will be launched by 10-20 "quality" butchers, well recognised for their customers appetite for specialist and niche goods.
The area is universally popular, attracting more than 32m visitors last year, said Phil Belden of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board (SDCB), the body spearheading the move. "It shouldnt be that difficult to brand the South Downs and go for this in a big way.
Mr Belden believes the project will build on support generated by a poster campaign run jointly between the SDCB and the NFU south-east region in 1997 which pointed out to consumers that without animals grazing on the down the landscape they loved was at risk.
"With 1.5m consumers on the doorstep and another 10m within an hours drive, there is real potential for a local product. The advantage we have here is that we have large south-east conurbations on the doorstep and London and Paris within easy reach," he added.
The initiative has been developed following a Meat and Livestock Commission feasibility study which showed big potential for a quality local product, with chefs and butchers giving the thumbs up to the idea.
Although he anticipates farmers will want to see an immediate premium, the first priority must be building the market, said Mr Belden. "We are not talking premium prices in the short term. Over that period we would be building local demand for a local product.
"But if we can build the market place – people do eat lamb at the moment they are just not being very selective – then we will start to get a better price."
Branding the South Downs should be easy, claims Phil Belden.