Today is the final day of the Royal Welsh Show.
The Royal Welsh is one of the largest and best attended agricultural shows in the country. It runs for four days and is held at the Royal Welsh Showground at Builth Wells. Around 250,000 people flock to the area to celebrate Welsh rural life, food and farming, not to mention to buy almost anything you could think of from the hundreds of trade stands.
It was my first Royal Welsh this year and I went along on Monday (the first day), partly for reasons of recording a podcast (watch this space), partly to catch up with friends and partly to see the show itself. I spent a lot of time in the stock sheds, looking at various breeds of sheep and cattle, and watching them as they circled the competition rings. It struck me quite how much this show must have grown and developed over the years, and yet it remains true to its roots. It’s an opportunity for farmers to show off their stock, potentially attracting new customers, as well as to have some social time, meeting friends and sharing woes and successes of the year so far.
The weather certainly helped the day along (glorious sunshine). The organisers must have been happy. For any event in Britain you never really know the cards you have been dealt when it comes to the weather until the day itself, and it can drastically impact on its success.
My morning was spent in the livestock part of the showground, as well as the Young Farmers tent, but in the afternoon I ventured out across the site, looking at machinery, tucking into free samples in the Food Hall (one of the best things about shows like this!) and wandering the many rows of trade stands. There was also an ‘area hub’ for conservation and wildlife based organisations, and I chatted with the various representatives from each organisation. I came across Songbird Survival, a charity that sits pragmatically between GWCT and the RSPB in its outlook and focuses on working to reverse the decline in songbird abundance. I spent some time in the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology‘s tent, hearing about their recent evaluation of Wales’s Glastir sustainable land management scheme. I spoke to representatives of the RSPB about farmland conservation and hedgehogs. When I quizzed them about what was on the lips of most people who had spoken to them through the day they told me that it was small birds and gardens. This makes logical sense in that it is perceptibly the area in which most people can have most impact. However, at an agricultural show, the Royal Welsh of all places, I had hoped that farmland conservation might have featured slightly higher in the questioning ranks. This was Monday of course, and it could be that if I were there today and we were having the same conversation the response would have been different.
Agricultural land use covers 81% of land in Wales, and so Welsh farmers are a critical partner when it comes to any sort of land policy. Events such as the Royal Welsh highlight to a large number of people, many of whom may have very little connection, if any, with farming, the impact that agriculture has on our landscape and on our culture. From biodiversity management to water filtration and flooding mitigation, food production to tourism and doing their bit to sustain rural employment and communities, farmers in Wales (as in the rest of the UK and in rural areas all over the world) have a key role to play. Defra Secretary Michael Gove was visiting the show on the same day I attended (pity I didn’t bump into him), presumably as part of his ‘listening mission’ before he takes any radical steps to transform farming and environment policy. The new British Agricultural Policy, whatever it looks like, will surely have a significant impact on our countryside environment and communities. I just hope that the enormous amount that farmers already provide for society is not forgotten. People might perceive subsidies as a hand out and say that farmers get something for nothing. I disagree. So many of the services that farmers provide probably wouldn’t happen (or at least wouldn’t happen quite so well) if they weren’t paid for them somehow. If the state doesn’t pay, then who else would? I agree that the current system (the more land you have the more money you receive) is unfair and requires reform, but I fail to see a future in Britain without any form of public subsidy.