ONE OF NFU Scotland’s highest accolades has been awarded to Gill Johnstone, a union stalwart who has worked as a group secretary for 24 years on Islay.

Ms Johnstone, Islay group secretary since March 1995, is this year’s worthy winner of the coveted Miskelly Award.

Over the years, Gill has built up a fantastic relationship with local farmers, integrating herself into the community and building a real understanding of the issues affecting those she represented. She retired from her role on December 31, but her involvement in the union will continue as she was elected as Branch Chair for Islay at the local AGM in January.

The Miskelly Award was established in memory of John Miskelly, an inspirational figure who served as regional manager with the union, and was presented by John’s family following his death in 2006. Now in its thirteenth year, the trophy recognises those who have shown outstanding dedication and commitment to NFU Scotland and Scottish farming and crofting.

Union president Andrew McCornick said: “Gill’s dedication and enthusiasm for her role as group secretary is a real inspiration for the agricultural industry. Gill went above and beyond as group secretary and fought many battles for local members on a host of issues. I’m delighted that she will still be involved in representing local members as Branch Chair.

“Gill’s tenacity and her desire to fight for better results for her members is something to behold and I thank Gill for all the time and effort she put into this role. She has made a real difference for those on Islay over the last 24 years.”

Islay farmer Robert Epps, who represents the region on the Union’s Environment and Land Use committee, has worked with Gill for many years. He said: “I send my warmest congratulations to Gill for winning the Miskelly Award – if there was another award for champion of lost causes, she would certainly win that as well.

“Over the 24 years, I’ve worked to overcome many farming issues with Gill and she certainly demonstrates how to overcome adversity. Some years ago, the 'new' LFASS was set to dilute vital lifeline funding on our poorer ground and divert it to better and intensive areas – she organised other islands to come with us to Brussels, in turn reversing this action.

“Meaningful compensation for protected geese was secured by recruiting grassland experts and scientific and reasoned argument, bringing equality to desperate farmers whether they were within an SSSI or not. When the damage done by the population of protected Barnacle geese vastly outstripped the compensation, she campaigned for controlling numbers by shooting – 'impossible' we were told, but Gill took the lead to organise another visit to Brussels and the Scottish Parliament, which saw licenced shooting agreed.

“Organising biosecurity at ferry times during foot-and-mouth disease, keeping our slaughterhouse open and encouraging youth in agriculture just added to Gill’s very special relationship with Islay farmers," added Mr Epps. "She has worked long and hard to help us overcome the challenges on Islay and we very much appreciate it.”

NFU Mutual regional manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Martin Malone, commented: “I think I speak for all at NFU Mutual when I say a big thank you to Gill for her work supporting farmers in her 24 years with us. Gill has greatly expanded the agency in Islay, one of Scotland’s iconic islands, famed for its links to the region’s great food and drink sector.

“Through the years, Gill has built long-lasting relationships with our customers through her personal service approach and wealth of knowledge in the provision of insurance and financial services.”