Royal Highland Show – Ticking All The Boxes

UK - Business or pleasure, special interest or just plain curiosity, the Royal Highland Show, Scotland’s leading outdoor event featuring all that’s best in farming, food and countryside, certainly ticks all the boxes.
calendar icon 18 April 2011
clock icon 6 minute read

For the organisers, it’s a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, providing an opportunity for the 1000 or so trade exhibitors to do business; on the other, staging a number of features and attractions that appeal to the wider public.

And there’s another part to the equation. The organisers, the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS), have a charitable remit to be the standard-bearer for farming and rural industry through the encouragement of excellence and innovation, the recognition of achievement and service, and the promotion of awareness and knowledge.

In effect, the Royal Highland Show is also a massive public relations effort highlighting the breadth and depth of Scottish agriculture, its role in an expanding food and drink industry, and its influence on the environment and countryside.

Bringing all of this together, while simultaneously ensuring that the many thousands who attend depart with memories of a great day out, is the responsibility of show manager, David Dunsmuir who, from Thursday, June 23 until Sunday, June 26, will supervise the fruits of a year’s planning.

"Although there is no such thing as the perfect show, our recent attendance figures would seem to suggest we are getting the mix about right," he says.

"At the business end, all of the key people in the industry have us as a fixture in their diaries, we are attracting more of an international audience, we provide stimulation and interest for around 30,000 schoolchildren and our mix of action and activity coupled to food, shopping, music and entertainment, brings in the general public."

And last year they came in their droves. The attendance over the four days was 187,644, a new record shattering the previous year’s high of 176, 522 and taking the average attendance in the last few years to around the 175,000 mark.

There has been a notable change in the pattern. Previously, it was assumed that Thursday and Friday were "farmer days" with a limited attendance and the main numbers visiting at the weekend. But with changing work practices and more flexible hours, daily attendance has evened out with the "big days" now Friday and Saturday.

David Dunsmuir adds: "It’s rewarding to have these sorts of figures but I am cautious about chasing records and realistic enough to admit that the weather can be a factor, especially at the weekend.

"We have invested heavily in our infrastructure with loads of attractions under cover, not to mention many miles of tarmac roadways and show avenues. So, whatever the elements, we are still able to provide a good visitor experience."

In the days before the Royal Highland settled at its permanent base at the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston, near Edinburgh, it moved around the country on an eight-year rolling programme reflecting the electoral areas of the RHASS. This year it is the turn of the Borders to be the "hosts".

The Presidential team, headed by Lord Smith of Kelvin, has decided to mark the occasion with a celebration of the food, textiles, heritage, countryside and visitor attractions from the region.

Each strand will be located at appropriate sites throughout the showground. There will also be music from the Borders Schools Orchestra and a parade of local foxhounds at the weekend.

As an event of world standing, there is a strong international dimension to the show with enquiries already from Australia, Canada, the USA and most European countries. Two official delegations from Kenya and China are scheduled to attend, the Chinese from Jilin Province, one of the key farming areas in the People’s Republic and pivotal in the current five-year plan for the industry.

With the province split almost 50-50 into livestock and grain production, there could be major business and knowledge transfer opportunities for Scotland.

On the domestic front, in recognition of the business to business aspect of the show and the importance of its fast-growing Renewables Section, the influential 2020 Climate Change Group will be holding a strategy meeting in Ingliston House.

The group, made up of business leaders from the private and public sector, was set up to ensure the realisation of Scotland’s climate change delivery plan and the attainment of a 42% carbon emission reduction target.

Also on the business front, the UK’s £1.7 billion farm machinery, equipment and services industry will have an opportunity to take enquiries and fill up the order book. The show organisers have made a special effort this year to promote the agricultural trade area, part of a policy to adhere to the event’s core base as a platform for farming, both arable and livestock production.

The latter, 5000 head of the best cattle, sheep, goats and horses, not forgetting poultry, are one of the headline attractions for both the specialist and general visitor. The grand parade of prizewinners is one of the memorable sights of the show.

The main prize, the Queen’s Cup, which was presented in 1960 to mark Her Majesty’s Presidency of the RHASS, will be presented to the best heavy horse, the supreme choice between Clydesdale, Highland and Shetland Ponies.

Meanwhile, Scotland is on a mission to grow its food and drink industry to a value of £12.5 billion by 2017. Collaboration between all sectors, from primary production through to retail, is crucial, and the show plays an integral role in the farm-to-plate process.

The Food and Drink Hall is the place to visit to sample, taste and buy some of the finest products from Scotland and further afield and to watch leading chefs demonstrate their preparation and presentation skills in the Cookery Theatre.

In other parts of the showground, all of the main multiple food retailers will be present featuring their supplier links.

The consumers of tomorrow are catered for in the Children’s Discovery Centre run by the Royal Highland Education Trust. In their own junior Scotch Beef Children’s Cookery Theatre, sponsored by Quality Meat Scotland, they can try their hand at cooking a recipe using Scottish ingredients.

There are also opportunities to make flour, milk a life-sized model cow and learn more about farming, food and countryside past and present.

The accent in the centre is very much "hands-on" and over the show’s four days, some 30,000 pairs of hands will be busy on various projects.

2011 is the year of Active Scotland, the Event Scotland initiative which is encouraging us all to get involved in outdoor activities. The show is playing its part with a focus on dance, a climbing wall, biking and canoeing.

Probably one of the most energetic activities around at Ingliston will be sheep shearing, although this will be in the hands of the experts. The MacRobert Theatre is the venue for taking the wool off a sheep’s back in a matter of minutes. There’s a full programme of all-action shearing with the highlight the Six Nations Championship with shearers from Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland and France.

But that’s not all. In addition, there’s action, interest and entertainment in the Countryside Area, the Forestry Arena, the Outdoor Living Area, the Motor Zone, the Equestrian Village, the Honey Marquee, plus handcrafts and rural crafts, shopping arcades, a full music programme, the return of a daily fashion show, top-class show-jumping and a host of competitions and demonstrations.

David Dunsmuir adds: "Our aim is to present an event that in all senses, does the business. It’s a chance to discuss the latest products and trends, a place to network, an opportunity to meet up with friends and a guarantee of an enjoyable time experiencing the sights, sounds and tastes of one of Scotland’s great industries."

TheCattleSite News Desk

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