Agricultural journalists immersed in Scottish culture

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By Marlies Vleugels, Belgium

It is the second time I participated in an ENAJ/IFAJ press trip and it was very memorable. The arrival in Inverness left its mark on the trip, which would take around five days. The gin tasting at the first evening was already successful and the 22-person group could get along well. A good start for a five- day trip with a full, but varied program, with many encounters, with interesting people but… also with sheep, cattle, salmon and whisky.

Meet the Scottish farmers

The first day we got to know the Scottish weather. Packed in sweaters and raincoats we met the first farmer at Garguston. He confirmed what the other farmers would confirm in the coming days: with the sometimes harsh Scottish weather it is difficult to farm. The heavy rainfall means that a different way of farming is needed. Mike and sons Ali and Johnnie Martin grow seed potatoes, grain and finish beef cattle. When he talked about his company – but also that of others – he also showed his fear for the Brexit. What happens after that? Certainly financially there are a lot of questions.
Although arable farming is remarkable, the focus was also on other forms of agriculture. At Alvie Highland Estate, in Cairngorm National Park for example, landowner Jamie Williamson explained how he combines agriculture with income from tourism and nature conservation. We were given a tour of the gigantic land.

Cattle and lots of sheep

What will certainly stay with us are the many sheep, in the vast landscape, but also on the road. You don’t understand that the animals run away from people, but can still quietly walk along a large bus! People who are busy with these woolly animals could not be missing in the program. More than 750,000 hectares of the Scottish land is managed by crofters. It has been named a Scottish Natural Heritage. It is not profitable, so many crofters depend on an income from another job. But the people seem quite happy with what they do, although some of them lead an isolated life.

Sheep also means dogs that herd them together. And we certainly got to see a demonstration of this at one of the crofters, Scott McRuary, but also with the dog instructor and sheep and cattle farmer Scott Renwick. The view of his land between the mountains, with sheep and his dogs… It was a feast for the eyes of journalists! Shearing the sheep was also special to see since it was my first experience with sheep shearing.

On land, at sea

In Scotland, both the whisky and the sea are seen as precious liquids. The Scottish sea is especially precious because of its kelp. Kelp is extracted from the sea, dried and used in many products. Hebridean Seaweed is a company that specialises in kelp products, from ointments to extracts and even biscuits. The company’s new premises are still under construction, but the manager was able to explain his full vision during a guided tour. It was a unique experience.

On the last day, we traded our bus, along with its great bus driver, for a boat – a wonderful experience for all agricultural journalists, including me. Salmon farming is very different from cattle or sheep farming, although one of the journalists noticed several similarities. Fully dressed with rubber pants and coats, safety vest and helmet we braved the sea to see the breeding modules. Scientists and real sailors work together to ensure that the fish is cultivated sustainably.

Positivity on top

At the end of the trip you can say that the program was varied, but not tiring. Visiting the whisky distillery and getting to know the folk music was very pleasant. Besides… I’ve never eaten lamb as good as that in Scotland. I can only praise the organisation, and especially Eilidh MacPherson for leading the trip in the right direction, even when not everything went according to plan.

Scotland, you will be missed!

Photo report: Eilidh MacPherson