FIVE hundred representatives from the agricultural community in the Scottish Borders and north Northumberland met this week to officially kick-off the bicentennial celebrations of the Border Union Agricultural Society (BUAS).
WHEN farmers, landowners, members of BUAS and guest of honour, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, met in Kelso on Tuesday for a celebratory lunch, it was 200 years to the day since a group of landowners originally got together to set up the society.
The Countess is acting as patron for the year of events marking the setting up of the society, which now stages a number of events throughout the year including the Border Union Show, Kelso Ram Sales and the championship dog show.
BUAS was originally created after an initial meeting of landowners from both sides of the Tweed, who met at the Cross Keys Hotel in Kelso in January 1813.
Their idea was to create an organisation to foster agricultural improvements on both sides of the Border.
The Fifth Duke of Roxburgh became the first president and members each paid an annual subscription of one guinea, to fund prizes “for the best stock of different kinds, for discoveries in agriculture, in regard to tillage, or the management of Grass Lands, and for new and improved implements of Husbandry”.
Prizes for the winning livestock were generous and came with the conditionanimals could be used by other society members to help improve the region’s livestock. Agricultural workers and servants were awarded prizes for their work.
The society showcased the latest technical advances in farming and equipment at spring and autumn exhibitions, and introduced ploughing and farriery competitions.
And it pushed forward in the field of animal welfare by establishing proper markets for farm livestock, horses and wool and lobbied the Government on issues of importance for Borders farmers.
Chairman of the BUAS Bicentenary Committee, Gareth Baird, said; “In the last 200 years, the BUAS has witnessed huge changes in the way food is produced and the way the countryside is managed.
“We believe the society has had an extremely positive influence on how the Borders has developed and are very proud of the men who had the vision to create this exceptional forum for promoting agricultural improvement, with all the economic and social advantages that this brought. We continue to be inspired by them and look forward to the next 200 years.”
Today, farming has a major impact on the area’s economy, providing direct employment for more than 4,000 people or around 8% of the total workforce.
Education has long been at the heart of the show, which has its own growing plots on the permanent showground. To mark the bicentennial, these will be massively expanded and there are plans to bring in more schools from both sides of the border to learn how food goes from field to fork. Five bigger plots, growing cereals, potatoes and root crops will be planted, and visitors will also be able to see the old and modern methods of ploughing, making hay and silage.
Modern crops including oilseed rape, linseed and evening primrose will also be sown in a new area to showcase the more modern crops being grown locally.
The River Tweed and the sheep industry, especially the wool trade, will also come under the spotlight.
BUAS is also recognising the vital role of education this year by creating a Bicentenary Fund, which will provide bursaries, awards and grants to support local young people working in the countryside.
The idea is to fund people with academic ambitions ranging from the Nuffield Scholarship through to people seeking £1,000 for a few months’ study.
BUAS has been raising cash for the fund since last year with a memorial avenue of 20 trees – one to mark each decade of the society – to be planted at the Springwood Park showground in Kelso. The trees are each being sold for £1,000 and will be a lasting reminder of the bicentennial year.
There will also be a bicentenary cairn containing a time capsule from 2013 and Brian Wain and Charlie Robertson have penned a memorial book - A Meeting Held in Kelso, charting the society’s history in full.
All in all, 2013 is a year of major anniversaries for BUAS. The Kelso Ram Sales will be 175 years old, it is 60 years since the society bought its permanent base at Springwood Park for the grand sum of £5,500, and the Crufts qualifier championship dog show will mark its 40th year.
This year’s 200th Border Union Show will be held at Springwood Park, Kelso, on July 26 and 27.