I’m rather excited to bring you this week’s article, as it’s Royal Welsh Week!
Considered by many to be the pinnacle highlight of the British Agricultural Calendar - The Royal Welsh Show an exciting four days of of livestock competitions, with entries travelling from far and wide to compete, the show has something to interest everyone - a wide range of activities including forestry, horticulture, crafts, countryside sports, shopping, food and drink and a 12-hour programme each day of exciting entertainment, attractions and displays.
Looking back fondly, The Royal Welsh Show came to Llanelwedd at Builth Wells for the first time on 23 July 1963. Before then it had led a peripatetic life, the show being held at no fewer than 37 different locations, alternating between the north and the south. For that first meeting there were just over 400 livestock entries; within four years that figure had risen enormously with over 200 cattle trucks and horse boxes making their way to the seaside town. Twenty three special trains had to be laid on in order to cater for the visitors and those wishing to show their livestock.
Much has changed in the farming landscape since agricultural societies were first established back in the mid-18th century. Back then, their entire focus was to improve agricultural productivity and shows soon emerged as the principle vehicle to deliver the aim, where livestock competitions were used to identify superior genes and animals and where the latest technology and farm implements would have been showcased to farmers and landowners.
Since that first meeting, The Royal Welsh Show has continued to grow. These days livestock entries number around 8,000 each year and 20,000 cars are expected every day of the four day gathering. Many people bring their campervans or tents and spend the week in and around Builth Wells. No wonder something of a traffic jam can be created at certain times! As anyone who has ever been to the show will tell you, the experience is well worth the effort (BBC Blogs).
Now, agricultural shows aren’t just a gathering of tractors and the local pony club - far from it. A central moment in many farmers, agricultural, families and country-dwellers calendar, agricultural shows continue to thrive all over the UK (despite some Brexit fears). Not only do they act to showcase a local (and national) pocket of immense talent; shows and exhibitions wow audiences with a collection of expertise and inventiveness.
Today, their role is more diverse and they now attract a far wider demographic as they welcome families, groups and individuals who are not from a farming background at all. Although a survey conducted at the Royal Welsh Show in 2015 revealed almost 60 percent of visitors did not work in agriculture, attendees identified their most popular areas of enjoyment were in fact the livestock, animals, food, socialising and atmosphere.
Apart from the social aspect of the show, which for me tops the list, the increased economic activity allows communities to flourish, as people flock through the towns and villages in their thousands. Family-run enterprises, which are the heart and soul of the rural community, experience increased sales, and the ‘Shop Local’ campaign, that The Hills cares so much about, really does take full flying force at such events. For many businesses who are able to secure a stall or stand, this event can be the milestone that really puts them on the public map.
Allowing social and economic benefits to find common-ground, the tradition of Agricultural shows is one of paramount importance that will hopefully continue to remain a major part of our culture. In fact, county and agricultural shows are on the rise and - according to the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations (ASAO) - nearly seven million people attended them in 2014, up from five million 10 years ago.
"People from towns and cities are connecting more with the countryside and are even exhibiting now. The National Farmers' Union has done a lot of work to persuade people to buy British while programmes like Countryfile and Lambing Live are getting people interested”, says Charlotte Johnston, the Royal Agricultural Society of England's livestock specialist.
Shows and their parent agricultural societies demonstrate incredible longevity and are often supported by member-led committees dedicated to safeguarding their futures. Last year for example, Heckington Show, Lincolnshire, Emely Show, Yorkshire, and Romsey Show, Hampshire, celebrated anniversaries of 100 years or more.
The Royal Welsh Show is not just for farmers and those who live in the country - these days there are almost as many town dwellers to be found around the show ring. From families taking a day out to see the animals and encourage their children to learn more about their countryside, to allotment owners taking a chance at showing their prize carrots, it is common to see a large mixture of ‘professional’ show goers and novices alike! This blend merely adds to the charm, and simply highlights that the show is an important part of the Welsh social calendar, for everyone, regardless of where they live or their occupation. It is something not to be missed!
Have I tempted you to head down to your local show this summer?