County shows’ future at risk amid Covid-19 challenge *H&H Plus*

  • With two county shows already cancelled for 2021, work is ongoing to protect the circuit’s vital role in horse sport, hunting, rare breeds and the countryside. H&H finds out more...

    MORE help is needed to protect county shows and the vital role they play in the countryside and equestrian sporting circuit if they are to have a future.

    The events industry has been badly hit by the pandemic, with Government support going little or no way to making up for months of lost income for many of the sole traders and independent businesses that make up the industry that contributes around £41bn to the UK economy.

    The 2020 season was decimated by the pandemic and two major shows have already pulled the plug for next year.

    With the county and agricultural show circuit at the heart of many rural businesses, both directly for those involved in their staging and tradestands and indirectly with the money spent in the surrounding areas, the impact of cancellations is widespread.

    The circuit also plays a major role in equestrian sport and in bringing horses, hunting, the working of the countryside and rare breeds to a wider audience.

    The Suffolk Show, which recorded 90,000 visitors over two days last year, will miss 2021 owing to the uncertainty from the pandemic. It instead plans to host a series of smaller, focused events such as equine and livestock shows, before returning in 2022.

    In a letter to members, the Newbury & District Agricultural Society (NDAS), which runs the Royal County of Berkshire Show, said its finances were “not in good shape before the pandemic made things much worse” and will not run a show next year.

    British Showjumping chief executive Iain Graham told H&H county shows are “pivotal” for showjumping.

    “They are not only a great introduction to larger show environments for horses as part of their production programme, but also one of the few opportunities they have to jump in large grass arenas before stepping up to international level,” he said.

    “The aptly named international stairway takes place at many of the largest county shows in the country and a number of our top international horses have come through that pathway structure.

    “From a performance perspective aside, we are also in the fortunate position of being the only Olympic sport to have a presence at them and for us to be able to showcase our sport to the vast audiences is a major attraction for us and one we hope will continue far into the future.”

    Rare Breeds Survival Trust chief executive Christopher Price told H&H county shows are a good opportunity to show what is “so special about our native breeds of livestock and equines to thousands and thousands of people every year”.

    Some organisers have turned to other ideas, such as virtual shows and alternative events at the showgrounds, but support is needed across the events industry to protect its future.

    “From showcasing the finest livestock to providing an opportunity to support and promote local and rural businesses, county shows supply a vital source of social interaction between town and country while also educating those from all walks of life about living in the countryside,” Polly Portwin, head of hunting at the Countryside Alliance, told H&H.

    “Crucially, they offer hunts a way to engage with local people who may have a limited knowledge of trail-hunting activities, demonstrating the high level of horse and hound welfare maintained by the professional hunt staff.”

    Paul Hooper, of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations, told H&H the organisation is working with the Government and its stakeholders to protect shows for the future and explained the very real struggle the industry is facing in accessing support.

    “We are working constantly with our membership to assist them to apply for grants, but many members are ineligible due to the criteria put forward by the Government,” he said, giving the example of many members not qualifying for business rates relief.

    “We are in constant contact with our members and other allied organisations to ensure the heritage, education, economy, community and charitable support that shows create throughout the year will be able to carry on into 2021.”

    H&H, 22 October 2020


    You may also be interested in…