Countess of Wessex adds touch of royal glamour as Border Union marks 200 years

ROYALTY was present in Kelso this week, as 500 local farmers, landowners and other representatives from the agricultural community across the Borders and north Northumberland braved Arctic-like weather conditions and gathered for a special lunch to mark 200 years of the Border Union Agricultural Society (BUAS).

The event was held at the society’s Springwood Park on Tuesday, exactly two centuries 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.

And from its base at the Border Union showground at Springwood Park in Kelso, the society has grown to perform 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, including a unique 200th Border Union Show in July, that the society hopes will attract visitors from across the Borders, the North of England and beyond.

This week’s special anniversary lunch, to celebrate the start of the bicentenary year of what is one of Scotland’s most important agricultural organisations, was presided over by guest of honour, HRH The Countess of Wessex.

She 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 special bicentenary Border Union Show at the end of July.

And as part of this programme of special events, a Bicentenary Fund is to be created which will see the BUAS providing bursaries, awards and grants to support young Borderers working in the countryside.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s lunch, Gareth Baird, chairman of the BUAS Bicentenary Committee, said the last 200 years had 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,” he told TheSouthern.

“We continue to be inspired by them and look forward to the next 200 years.”

As for the luncheon, Mr Baird said the society was delighted the countess was still able to attend, despite the atrocious weather conditions that have plagued the country for almost a week.

“This is a big day for the society and I have to say I was gobsmacked by the numbers who wanted to attend.

“I’d thought we might get about 300 people, but the event sold out within 10 days, which is fantastic.”

Speaking after the anniversary lunch, Ron Wilson, BUAS secretary, said the lunch had been a great success, made more special by the prescence of the Countess of Wessex.

“Today’s bicentenary lunch was great success and a wonderful start to a year-long celebration of the society’s achievements over the last two centuries,” he told us.

“We marked the landmark date in style with a sumptuous lunch of delicious Borders produce, which was enjoyed by everyone including our royal patron for the year, HRH the Countess of Wessex.

“The Countess was delightful and seemed very interested to meet society members from both sides of the Tweed and hear about our agricultural industry, past and present.

“We were thrilled that she made the effort to brave the wintry weather conditions to be with us today.”

Mr Baird says today there is a much wider range of activities contributing to the rural economy which are fundamental to the prosperity of the Borders and north Northumberland –much different from when the society was formed.

“When it was formed, the society’s focus was to educate and stimulate farmers to improve and develop,” he said.

“This is still vital, but we’re equally committed to helping the general public understand the important contribution of the countryside to the environment and educating them about the production of food and other raw materials.”

And Mr Baird was keen to highlight two of the special events being staged as part of the bicentenary celebrations, to bring a wider understanding of the rural economy and how much it means to the Borders.

He explained that a special schools day will be staged at Springwood Park, when every 10-year-old child in the region’s schools will be invited to attend for free and it is hoped this will become an annual event.

The other highlight is the Borders Banquet, which will be staged on the Friday evening of the show weekend, with a team of celebrity chefs providing the food.

Farming remains an important part of the Borders economy, directly employing more than 4,000 people – or 8 per cent of the total workforce – and the BUAS remains at the heart of this.

And 2013 is the year which will underline how much agriculture, associated rural industries and the BUAS still mean to the Borders of the 21st century.