Retiring NSA Scottish Region Chairman writes open letter to members in Scotland

28th February 2019

John Fyall recently completed his two-year term as NSA Scottish Region Chairman, stepping down at the Annual Regional Members' Meeting on Wednesday 13th February. He has written this open letter to NSA members in Scotland to reflect on his term and comment on recent development in NSA Scottish Region.

I write as outgoing NSA Scottish Region Chairman to thank all members for the tremendous support I have felt during my term in office.

Our region has gone from strength to strength in this period, continuing to build on our events with superb NSA Highland Sheep and Scot Sheep events where we could not have asked for better farms, trade and visitor support, or weather. Our local event committees rose to the occasion and delivered events that, in contrast to our industry mood, were beyond expectation.

The Royal Highland Show and new activities, such as the sheepdog training for novices, went down very well and allowed peer-to-peer learning, and our Parliamentary evening in Holyrood allowed a chance for new faces and those across the sheep industry to get points over to politicians.

Due to ill health, George Milne was absent during the spring and early summer months and our Events Organiser Euan suffered family bereavement and ill health, so our office bearers have worked extra hard over the last year. I want to thank the volunteers and wish George and Euan a better 2019.

We have seen an increase in membership over the period, no doubt helped by keeping up a presence in the political arena and by initiatives such as NSA Next Generation and the dog worrying campaign that saw a concerted effort from May 2017 with a video and united stakeholder initiative, which was very much led by NSA office bearers. The subject of sheep attacks by dogs has been picked up particularly by the Scottish Farmer, which has been part of an industry-wide group helping achieve a bill presentation this month by Emma Harper MSP.

The Scottish Farmer and the Scotsman coverage of our recent Scottish Region Annual Members’ Meeting was not particularly helpful and did not portray the positive work being done within the organisation – but where both writers were correct is that the sheep industry does not need in-fighting and does need a voice. I genuinely believe we offer this and find the public commentary from outside the committee sad and not reflective of the hard work going on at our Scottish Region and on a national level by NSA to get a better lot for our sheep farmers. It is making the most of our funds and looking to our objectives as an organisation that has led to recent scrutiny of budget and roles, and I think we are in a better place having had these discussions.

Regarding the recent changes in NSA Scottish Region office holders, our outgoing Vice Chairman Kathy Peebles brought many new ideas and was especially involved in the dog initiative and a number of consultation responses. But Kathy took the decision not to stand for Chair on the eve of our annual members’ meeting. Our new Chairman, Jennifer Craig, was a candidate for Vice Chairman two years ago in a three-way contest and has remained a popular member; it was no surprise to see her elected Chair.

Jennifer has been an NSA Next Generation Ambassador from when the programme first started and is one of the first to now become a regional chair. Our committee meetings have become shorter and more targeted in recent years, and we have a large and active committee that reflects the Scottish sheep industry at all levels.

George Milne’s resignation as NSA Scottish Region Development Officer, was a surprise, coming just the day before the annual members’ meeting. George was employed directly by NSA to develop Scottish sheep interests and encourage interaction with members and to recruit. It was George’s decision to resign from NSA, a decision that he was sad to make but clearly felt was the right move for him. I’m sure George will still be very involved in the sheep sector and I wish him well, but with the opportunity now to review our operations up here, in conjunction with a very healthy relationship within the national association, I think NSA Scotland has great potential going forward.

All NSA Scottish Region events have been run by our Event Organiser Euan Emslie and this will continue as normal. None of our officeholders are paid, with all giving their time voluntarily. The office bearers and NSA officials will now consider how to make best use of resources going forward. We have very capable individuals within the organisation who can represent the sheep sector as office bearers, and we may now rely on them more and move to remunerate their expenses. For the record, all time by myself, and Sybil and Jimmy as chairs before me, was given freely and no expenses ever claimed from against NSA Scottish Region. Performing the role costs time from our own businesses and I don’t believe any of our chairmen have been in it for personal gain and all have continued to work for the good of the sheep industry and their farms rather than take other offices or posts. We have a healthy replacement of office bearers, with these three past chairman (covering 12 years) still on committee to offer support and ideas to the new office bearer ideas.

Every NSA member has the right and the opportunity to ask questions and get answers, and this right was fully offered at our annual members’ meeting. As a member, if you have any concerns, I would ask you use the committee or our members’ meetings to satisfy these before publicising issues to the press. Our committee and officeholders are democratically elected and they are elected to carry and represent your views.

We now have a new team of office bearers and a committee which is motivated and enthused with a reinforced understanding that it will take hard work to keep making progress. We are as committed as ever to represent our members and the sheep industry, and to run events that are inspiring and innovative for the industry.

So as I stand down I would like to introduce you to your new office holders. Jennifer Craig (Jen) is a hands-on hill farmer from near Crawford, South Lanarkshire, and has been on the committee for four years. She is also Clyde NFUS Branch Chairman and a capable and confident young farmer with a passion for the industry.

Maimie Paterson from Dunblane is our Vice Chairman and will provide a knowledge of the industry that will be invaluable to the top team. Maimie has been involved as treasurer, and has always been particularly supportive of younger members, being the instigator of our recent and popular sheepdog handling courses.

Mary Dunlop is a new office bearer, as Treasurer, and is another practical sheep farmer (one of the first Beltex flocks in Scotland) with many interests, and has been a willing helper at NSA events for many years. Between the three I am excited about their complementary skills and what they will be able to do for the membership.

At a national level, I shall continue on the NSA UK Policy & Technical Committee, with Jen taking Scotland’s place on the NSA Finance & General Purposes Committee. We are represented on the NSA Board by Trustee/Directors Peter Myles from Edzell and Aileen McFadzean from Perth.

 2019 will be a landmark year for the sheep industry and NSA Scottish Region is committed to delivering as much as possible. We are widely regarded as punching above our weight in the industry and beyond, and by all pulling together we have the vigour and skills in our team to continue this. I am sure the new team will carry on as I have in questioning whether they deliver value for our small but valuable resources with everything they do, and I hope you notice an endeavour to make sure the membership is well communicated with our policy, technical and development work going forward.

I wish you well with the coming lambing season, and finally I hope as many of you as possible can make your way to NSA Highland Sheep 2019 in Caithness. We are blessed again with an excellent host and a good committee and plans are well underway for a unique event to the very far north. But it’s a popular tourist area so get your digs booked!

With best wishes, John Fyall

John Fyall handed over the reins to Jen Craig at the NSA Scottish Region Annual Members' Meeting on Wednesday 13th February.
John Fyall handed over the reins to Jen Craig at the NSA Scottish Region Annual Members' Meeting on Wednesday 13th February.
Jen Craig will be support in her new role by Maimie Paterson as Vice Chairman.
Jen Craig will be support in her new role by Maimie Paterson as Vice Chairman.