EXPECT NOTHING less than a ‘barnstormer’ of a Royal Highland Show this June.

That was the message this week from the top team behind the 200th anniversary event, who are right now braced for the one month countdown to the gates opening to the public.

The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland is not unaware, however, of the brickbats that have recently been flung its way by those unhappy with its determined push to get a grip of the numbers coming through the gate, even if they be paid up Members.

Society chairman Bill Gray was emphatic at this week’s pre-show briefing that the Society would ‘look after its Members’.

Asked about the dire warnings of problems at car parks and gates because of the clampdown on non-ticketed entry, Mr Gray repeated more than once the mantra that he would not see any members ‘left in the lurch’, and that they were not expecting problems.

Reading between the lines and the rueful smiles, it seems that what RHASS intended as a data-gathering exercise about attendance intentions has been perceived, in some quarters, as a dictatorial infringement of a Members’ fee-paying right to turn up whenever they wanted. Reading even further between the lines, the reality on the day may demonstrate that 100% advance ticketing was an aspiration, and will remain an ambition going forward, but so long as there is space in the showground, non-ticket holders may not be left in despair.

For the majority of Members, the request for advance information, and the system for providing it, hasn’t been a problem at all – RHASS reported a positive response to its online reservation system, described by users as ‘easy to use, simple and efficient’.  

The 11,500 members who provided an email address were sent a unique code to enable them to secure their tickets – and 7330 of those have responded already, with the most popular days for Member respondents planning to attend being the Friday and Thursday.  

But between 10 and 16% of member responses show they aren’t planning to attend on the busiest days – allowing the society to plan for that space to be occupied by the general public.

“Having this information frees up allocation for paying guests which will generate funds for the charity to enable us to carry out more charitable activities. I would like to thank our members for their support which is greatly appreciated,” said chief executive Alan Laidlaw. 

But site logistics guru Mark Currie, a veteran of mass events like T in the Park, was on-hand for a reality check about the necessity of the Highland knowing how many people to expect – and to be prepared for the possibility that a ‘full house’ sign may one day have to go up.

“When we are at capacity, the showground has a bigger population than Paisley,” noted Mr Currie. “That needs managed, and it needs planned for. In 2019, on the Saturday afternoon, it was creaking at the seams. It wasn’t dangerous, but we were watching it. There has to be a limit. Anyone who was out in the popular areas that afternoon will appreciate that.”

Mr Currie said that the Society saw a ‘very large chance’ that the Friday and Saturday of this year’s show will sell out.

“But members and their attendance are sacrosanct,” chipped in Mr Gray, who was not going to let that point go unmade once more.

RHASS admitted this week that livestock numbers entered are a little bit back, with 4866 entries confirmed across all sections, with some breeds up, some down.

Mr Laidlaw noted reduced applications for lorry parking, but increased requests for trailers, and speculated that fuel prices and plain old caution about the return to high-profile showing might be prompting exhibitors to trim their teams down a touch: “But the quality is going to be there.”

Nonetheless, the Highland Hall will house just under 1000 beef and dairy cattle, with a strong showing from native breeds, with the largest section being the Beef Shorthorns with 101 entries, followed by the Highland cattle with 80 and Aberdeen Angus with 77. Meanwhile the British Limousin class sees an increase with 92 entries, up from 85 in 2019.

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In the dairy section, the number of entries has increased to 121 – up from 114 in 2019. The Holstein class has shown a remarkable increase to become this year’s largest dairy class, with 50 entries, up from 27 in 2019.

Sheep entries sit at just under 2000 this year, with the Texel section leading the way with 166 entries, and the Beltex at 153 a close second. New classes for this year show strong entry numbers – with the Dutch Spotted breed bringing 102 and the public favourite Valais Blacknoses fielding 55.

RHASS competitions manager, David Tennant, commented: “This is the first time in three years competitors have attended a full show, so we are delighted that so many have returned to compete in our bicentenary year.”

The Society also confirmed that some trade stand holders had not taken space this year – most notably Davidsons Feeds and Lawrie&Symington – but noted that both had ongoing sponsorships at the show and had decided to stay away for their own reasons.

Tractor manufacturers will, however, be out in force, with the Agri trade areas having been the first to sell out. Even in the current disrupted global market, it seems that getting face-to-face with farmers is still the preferred method of promoting the big machines.

Finally, Mr Laidlaw addressed a persistent rumour that kist parties would not be allowed at this year’s show. It wasn’t true, he said, as kist culture would be in full swing, and he was puzzled that anyone would suggest otherwise.

“This show is going to be a barnstormer,” he added. “We are all looking forward to getting people through the gates and getting on with it.”