FIVE hundred farmers, landowners and other representatives from the agricultural community in the Borders and north Northumberland gathered at Springwood Park in Kelso on Tuesday for a special anniversary lunch to celebrate the start of the bicentenary year of one of Scotland’s most important agricultural organisations - the Border Union Agricultural Society.
Guest of honour at the event was HRH The Countess of Wessex, who has agreed to be the bicentenary patron for a year of events and activities organised by the society to celebrate this important milestone including the bicentenary Border Union Show on July 26 and 27.
Tuesday’s anniversary lunch marked 200 years to the day since a group of landowners from both sides of the Tweed met at the Cross Keys Hotel in Kelso and created a society that would help to drive through vital improvements in one of the country’s most important industries.
With His Grace The Fifth Duke of Roxburgh as president, members of the new Border Agricultural Society were charged a minimum annual subscription of one guinea which was used to fund premiums or prizes “for the best stock of different kinds, for discoveries in agriculture, with in regard to tillage, or the management of grass lands, and for new and improved implements of husbandry”.
Livestock prizes comprised a generous cash prize for the winner and a condition that the animals could be used by members to help improve the region’s livestock. Prizes were also awarded to agricultural workers and servants and spring and autumn exhibitions were held showcasing the latest farming innovations and advances in technology. An annual ploughing contest was started in 1832 and a competition for blacksmiths was introduced.
The society drove forward improvements in animal welfare and established proper markets for farm livestock, horses and wool. The BAS also became the voice of Borders farmers and agriculturalists, lobbying government on various issues. 1836 saw the first Ram Sales and 175 years later, the Kelso Ram Sale remains one of the largest one-day ram sales in the world.
Today, farming remains an important part of the Borders economy, directly employing over 4,000 people (eight per cent of the total workforce) and the BUAS remains at the heart of this. As part of a special Bicentenary Fund to be created this year, the BUAS will provide bursaries, awards and grants to support young Borderers working in the countryside. With increasing urbanisation, the BUAS also sees itself as having an important role in bridging the gap between town and country.
From its base at the Border Union Showground at Springwood Park in Kelso, the society also performs a vital role for the region’s tourist economy, providing a base for hosting events and exhibitions that attract millions of pounds of revenue into the area. This year is set to boost this further with special bicentenary celebrations and a 200th Border Union Show that the society hopes will attract visitors from across the Borders, the north of England and beyond.
Gareth Baird, chairman of the BUAS bicentenary committee 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.”
A new book charting the history of the Border Union Agricultural Society has been published to mark the organisation’s bicentenary. ‘At a Meeting Held in Kelso’, by Brian Wain and Charlie Robertson, costs £20 and can be ordered by calling the BUAS on Tel: 01573 224188 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Books can be collected from Springwood Park in Kelso, or posted (post and packing £3.50).