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Record crowds flock to NSA Scotsheep 2024

The Hamilton family run a large-scale enterprise across six units in East Lothian.

Thousands of Scottish and English farmers and other industry stakeholders gathered at Aikengall near Dunbar.
Thousands of Scottish and English farmers and other industry stakeholders gathered at Aikengall near Dunbar.

Almost 5,000 people from across Scotland and England flocked to one of the country’s largest and most progressive livestock businesses on Wednesday for NSA Scotsheep 2024.

The Hamilton family – Vanessa, and sons James, Charles and Harry, along with their wives – attracted a record-breaking crowd and record entry of 216 trade stands to Aikengall, near Dunbar, in East Lothian

The event was officially opened by Ken Fletcher, former editor of The Scottish Farmer, who described Aikengall as a “spot on” venue run by a “hardworking family who do the job right”.

Record-breaking crowds and trade stands

While Mr Fletcher referred to the past 18 months where commercial sheep values have been pushed to record levels, he also delved into the ongoing political fiasco in the industry, an extremely challenging spring and the devastation white-tailed sea eagles are having on flocks.

Ken Fletcher, former editor of The Scottish Farmer, gave the opening address.

He urged those in the audience to make sure their voices are heard by politicians and said yesterday’s event was the ideal opportunity to “poke them with a very sharp stick”.

“You would be hard pushed not to think that everything was rosy in the sheep garden but why are record prices not translating into boundless optimism and flocks increasing on a waves of enthusiasm?,” said Mr Fletcher.

“Number one is that political ennui on delivering a believable agricultural policy going forward has delivered nothing but hesitancy into future planning. Real hill farming does not have many options, unless there’s an availability to buy into renewables, so the confidence is very much a trigger for expansion.

“Currently, there is no confidence in Scotland that the political system is delivering for agriculture which is disappointing as for a small nation such as ours, a huge part of its GDP comes direct from the land.”

‘No confidence in Scotland that the political system is delivering for agriculture’ says Ken Fletcher

NSA Scotsheep 2024 chair Colin MacPhail.

Mr Fletcher said the horrendous weather over recent months has had a full impact on the mental health of farmers which has been redoubled in many areas of Scotland where sea eagles “rule the skies”.

“It is heart-breaking to see that a ewe has a healthy lamb one day, and then have it taken away by some of the rogue flying barn doors that are now so prevalent in the western seaboard of Scotland,” he said.

“There needs to be balance between the needs of those who live and work on the land and those of the white-tailed sea eagles. There are no credible controls in place and somebody, sometime has to face up to the fact that controlled culling or breeding is the only way forward.

Sea eagles ‘rule the skies’ and impact mental health on farmers

“If the Co-ops that provide a food service across much of the West Coast had a nightly break-in for three months of the year, you’d be damned sure that something would be done about it. For these farmers and crofters losing lambs to these birds is the same thing as shop lifting.

Lambs are falling prey to white-tailed sea eagles and there is no official help on offer, NSA Scotsheep 2024 heard.

In his usual manner, Dumfriesshire farmer and businessman Jim Walker CBE did not hold back when speaking on a panel alongside other speakers including George Burgess, Director of Agriculture and Rural Economy.

During his opening message, after which Agriculture Minister Jim Fairlie had addressed the audience, Mr Walker said it was like Groundhog Day.

“We’re being told to plan by our bankers and make strategic and financial decisions but we can’t do that in a policy vacuum,” said Mr Walker.

Jim Walker CBE condemns political speeches

“Jim Fairlie had a chance to clear a few things up this morning but he said nothing and George Burgess said the same thing he said one year ago.

“The calves and lambs that have been born this spring will be impacted completely and utterly by the decisions and implementations being made.”

A tractor tour for some of the attendees at NSA Scotsheep 2024.

Mr Walker said the major concern going forward is that less money is available to support farmers and they’ll have to do more to access it.

“The long-term future of the sheep industry, which has declined 30% in the last four years, must be based on real markets, not just on subsidies because you can’t rely on subsidies,” he said.

“LFASS support is absolutely crucial and it needs to be changed quickly. We should have different types of support mechanisms for smaller, hill and island producers who are not always able to take the living from producing food.

Sheep numbers have fallen 30% over last four years

“If they don’t get this policy sorted, the big farmers will survive and the efficient ones won’t, and the current policy vacuum will be responsible for the second Highland Clearances, never mind rewilding and forestry.”

Brian Richardson, UK head of agriculture for Virgin Money, said the company is lending around £1.5 billion to farmers across the UK, half of which are in Scotland.

Mr Richardson said over the last two years there has been a ‘pause’ in investment by farmers due to no clarity on policy, inflation and higher interest costs, and that the overall levels of borrowing in the industry are back at 2016 levels.

Virgin Money lends £1.5 billion to UK farmers

He added that there are still a significant amount of farmers who want to expand but there is not a lot of land available on the market.


Breed society – 1, Blackface Sheep Breeders Association; 2, Beltex Sheep Society; 3, Dalesbred Sheep Breeders Association.

Indoor trade stand – 1, Agrii; 2, Kate Simpson Art; 3, BHC. Outdoor trade stand – 1, ATV Services Scotland; 2, GP Smart & Son; 3, Quad Crate.

Speed shear – 1, Jacob Taylor 29.38; 2, Stuart Robson 35.39; 3, Kevin Sutherland 36.98. Team – 1, Simon Bedwell (28.93) and Adam Berry (30.38) 59.31. Open – 1, Simon Bedwell 29.66; 2, Adam Berry 32.80; 3, Hamish Mitchell 35.97; 4, Andrew Baillie 40.96; 5, Nathan Bee 44.93; 6, Calum Shaw DQ.

Next Generation Shepherd of the Year: Overall – 1, Ian Armstrong; 2 and best under 21, Tyler McKinlay; 3, Harry Gemmill; Sheep dog element – 1, Tyler McKinlay; 2, Morgan Reynolds; 3, William Fotheringham.

Sheep dog trial – 1, John Allan; 2, Fan Brownlie; 3, David Wallace; 4, Andrew Dickman; 5, Bill Elliot. Fencing – 1, M & A Fencing; 2, Sampson Fencing; 3, HVB Fencing

Show and sale of ewe hoggs – Bluefaced Leicester –  1, A MacGregor, Allanfauld, Kilsyth, £300 per life to Sinclair, Crookston. Texel – 1 and champion, A MacGregor, Allanfauld, £650 per life to Bryson, Laigh Logan. Continental – 1, J Duncan, Inchford, Cornhill, unsold. Non-MV accredited Mule – 1 and reserve champion, A McKenzie & Partners, Ardgate, £240 per life to Malone, Pitcairn; 2, Firm of Shawhead, Newmains, £210 per life to Moir, Cairness. Cheviot – 1 and 2, Bowmont Farming, Attonburn, £250 per life x2 to Kirsten Rieve. Blackface – 1, JW Kay & Sons, Gass, £350 per life to Dalmore, Kintyre. Suffolk – GS Shaw & Co, Smailholm, £420 per life to Adam Grieve.