By Grant Macpherson, managing director Dingwall and Highland Marts

Farmers and marts on the Scottish islands have a long history of buying and selling with the mainland – and rightly so.

Island isolation and stringent biosecurity testing of every beast coming and going from their shores have produced some of the most healthy, home-bred stock around.

These stores and replacement cattle and ewes form an integral part of the Scottish livestock industry, and there is a huge customer base that normally travels every year to the island sales between August and November.

In a normal year, this peak period involves 16 sales on different islands; buyers flying and ferrying from the mainland; and the shipping of around 1400 calves back the other way.

For most islands, their livestock sale is the biggest day of the year, with incoming producers needing places to stay and eat, and often a holiday afterwards.

It is logistical feat every year that Dingwall takes part in, with three marts that we work with – Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis, Lochmaddy on the Isle of North Uist, and our own market, Portree, on the Isle of Skye.

But this is not any year of course. In my 35 years in the trade, nothing has been as logistically challenging as Covid – not even foot-and-mouth.

But the livestock trade has gone on, and it has been heartening to see the strength of relationships between mainlanders and islanders and the marts that make the sales happen.

With smaller premises than their mainland counterparts, the island rings have had it tough organising social distancing. Vendors, like on the mainland, have had to stay away to give priority to buyers. Even so, some marts have had to restrict buyers to 14.

Despite all of this, 11 sales have gone ahead with only one main ram sales cancelled – a huge achievement given everything.

This is thanks to the committees that organise the marts, which have pulled out all the stops to make sales happen. Many of these are crofter-run, and so it has been the whole farming community coming together.

Their work has included working with authorities to keep everyone safe; ensuring mainlanders don't mix with islanders and take the virus across the water; making sure food and accommodation is available for our staff helping at the sales; and pitching in to sort stock that the vendors would normally.

The supply chain has helped out too, with one haulier taking it upon himself to ship 1400 cattle in two days to the mainland.

We may not have been able to hold all the sales, and the social aspect has definitely taken a hit. But the islands should be proud of their resilience through this time, and it will take more than Covid to stop them.

By working with them we have every intention of resuming a full sales programme as soon as safely possible – so watch this space.