Report of the Rural Futures Weekend

The conference staged over the weekend of the 16th & 17th March, at the Baldnoch Distillery in Wigtownshire, an area badly hit by FMD was a huge success and attended by over a 1,000 visitors; a remarkable achievement for the Group, formed barely nine months ago!

Local products were showcased. Information concerning Some alternative energy resources and a local re-cycling scheme was available and demonstrated throughout the day.

A wonderful supervised crhche for young children was great fun and housed in a Mongolian Yurt.

The RSABI provided information about the Charity and other helpful leaflets too. Ellie Logan had travelled from Cumbria with a wonderful display of amusing animal 'cut outs' , her video and a selection of photographs, shared the gallery space, above the main hall, with Juanita Wilson from the Mossburn Animal Centre at Lockerbie, well known for its work with animals and children.

Several workshops took place throughout the day including - Barry Graham from Loch Arthur on local processing, Carey Coombs advising on Organic Conversion, Hugh Donnelly on setting up various Co-operatives, The Small Business Gateway advised on Marketing and Jimmy Anderson talked concerning bio-dynamic agriculture toward social renewal.

Outside in the grounds, the Green Dome run by Renewable Energy Systems demonstrated the dynamo bicycle, windmill and solar panel energy resources and distributed information concerning housing co-operatives.

The speakers who addressed an audience of over 250 in the main hall at 11am included, Alistair McConnachie, the environmental journalist; Roger Windsor giving a vet's view concerning the policy used to control FMD in the recent epidemic; Dr. Richard North giving information concerning the mistakes that had been made and the outlook for the future. Rowena Hume, from the New Zealand Embassy gave a very interesting talk about the success farmers in her country were enjoying following the abolition of farming subsidies there. Although a different situation applies in the UK, not least of all because we are members of the European Community, her talk gave food for thought and some hope for success when our agricultural subsidies eventually disappear.

It was extremely disappointing that the Scottish Minister for Rural Affairs, Ross Finnie, was unable to attend or send a replacement representative to the conference. Sadly, the organisers were only informed of this at 5pm on Friday evening, rather too late to engage another speaker. At the last minute, Jane Barrabel was asked to fill the gap! She explained to the audience the accidental beginnings of 'Farmtalking' and the variety of work it has increasingly done over the past year, operating a 24/7 telephone help-line and website.

Late in the afternoon a panel fielded questions from the workshops and the audience. Chaired by Angela Everitt they included, Joan Mitchell - Vice Chairman of the Council and a local farmer, Alex Ferguson. MSP, Chairman of the Rural Affairs Committee, Carey Coombs, The Scottish Green Party's Agricultural Spokesperson, Ian Service, The Chairman of Wigtownshire NFU, Dr. Richard North, the epidemiologist and author, Alistair McConnachie, the environmental journalist and Jane Barrabel. It may be that the answers the panel gave were not always what the questioners wanted to hear but at least the questions posed and answers given, will surely stimulate further discussion and consideration on both sides. We all have a lot to learn, especially from each other!

On Saturday night, live music was provided by Zabalka for a traditional Ceilidh, with a caller, followed by funky Celtic/Breton Music.