Royal Highland Show: Rising attendance figures

THE past 12 months of poor weather has blighted Scottish agriculture, but yesterday a Highland Show director suggested that the 2013 event heralded a renewed sense of optimism in the industry.

Speaking yesterday, on the final day of the show, Keith Brooke, treasurer of the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS), which organises the event, claimed that a “new found degree of optimism” had emerged at the show.

He gave the example of one trade exhibitor who had equalled his sales figures of last year – but who had also “far more inquiries” to be followed up than in 2012.

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While there were some empty livestock pens, Brooke claimed that these were exhibitors who had possibly had more difficulty in getting their stock ready for showing, after what he described as the “worst spring in living memory”.

Stephen Hutt, chief executive of the RHASS, was also in upbeat mood, describing the four-day event as “a very happy show”.

With a final attendance of 170,556, compared with 2012 figures of 161.242, he said he was not disappointed.

“This is the first step back from a pretty horrific experience in 2012 but we have made the show more robust,” he said.

He also said he believed that attendance figures would rise again in future to above 180,000, as the Society had new ideas to introduce.

He was reluctant to give details of these, but there is strong speculation that there might be further development on the west side of the show, on land currently used as car parking.

The 2013 Highland Show will be remembered by some as the kick-off point for the rural vote on the independence referendum. Holding this political battle upset some, who considered that the showground should be free from such matters, but Hutt said he had no problem with hosting the debate.

He said: “For Scottish farmers, it is a debate that has to take place and the Society has a role in providing a platform for it, but we are not pitching on one side or the other.”

Last night, George Lyon, MEP, who chairs the Rural Better Together campaign which favours keeping the union, claimed he had already received 1,500 signatures of support, with half that number coming from people at the show itself.