16,500 visitors came to ‘have a go’ at the 2013 Autumn Show & Game Fair held at the South of England Showground, Ardingly, over the weekend (October 5 & 6), an increase of nearly 1,000 people from last year and 2,000 from the year before.
Traditional country sports were in abundance across the showground throughout the sunny weekend and people of all ages and genders could be seen having a go at something, whether it was clay pigeon shooting, gundog training, ferreting, terrier racing, dog agility, fly fishing or falconry.
Said Michelle Nudds, Vice Chairman of the Autumn Show & Game Fair Committee, “There was such a buzz across the showground and it was wonderful to see so many people trying things that they perhaps have never thought of attempting before. The game cookery demonstrations gathered quite a crowd and confirmed just how versatile cooking with game can be. Shoppers seemed very keen to learn more about the health benefits of and why we should all be looking to eat more seasonal and local food and producers such as Balcombe Fine Game had a very busy two days.”
Lord Egremont from the Petworth Estate, in West Sussex presented the annual Student Assignment Awards as his first ceremonial duty as newly-appointed President of the South of England Agricultural Society. The winning students from land-based colleges in Sussex and Hampshire were 18-year-old Jennifer White from Level 2 at Hadlow College, with her study on dairy farming, and 18-year-old Natasha Stonestreet from Plumpton College in East Sussex, for her study on roosting starlings. Runners up included Wesley Ubsdale and Richard Easterbrook from Chichester College, David Casebow from Sparsholt College and Natasha Trickett from Plumpton College.
Said Derek Cleaver, Chair of the Society’s Education Committee, “This competition is an important part of the society’s educational charity work and the quality was excellent this year, coming from the young people of the future who will be working in countryside careers.”
With the demand for country sports increasing each year in this region, competition was also fierce in the clay pigeon shooting, run by Dan Kerwood and his daughter Charlotte Kerwood who is triple Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist and member of Team GB in both London and for Rio in 2016.
Charlotte won the ladies’ High Gun trophy on Sunday and other cash prizes were taken home by Steve Scott from Battle, East Sussex winning the men’s High Gun and Guy Franklin from Haywards Heath who was part of the winning group who won 1st prize in the Team Shoot Challenge. Hundreds of beginners also tried their hand at this increasingly popular sport.
The newest attraction to the show was the Lamb Grand National and large crowds gathered around the main ring to take a look at the endearing Herdwick sheep as they raced with great aplomb around the track, clearing fence after fence, to the cheers of visitors.
Another crowd pleaser was the Kent & Surrey bloodhounds on Saturday and the cavalcade of hounds on Sunday, which drew many people into the ring for a closer look. Dogs of every breed and type were much in evidence throughout the show and formed a huge part of the weekend.
“I think my little puppy might have been one of the youngest visitors to the show,” commented Michelle Nudds, “but we were delighted to see so many of our supporters both young and old out in force with their faithful four-legged friends for our last major show in the 2013 calendar. The whole weekend really has been a true celebration of our glorious countryside.”
Many young visitors were captivated by the donkey show on Sunday, the pumpkin trail offered a gentle journey around the showground and smiling young faces were found at the traditional fairground and in the Fur & Feather area offering them a hands-on approach with the rabbits, chickens, ducks and geese as well as many other farmyard animals on display in the Abergavenny Building.
Bumper crops of entries were taken in the vegetable growing competition this year from giant leeks to perfect onions and the impressive vegetable displays from the National Vegetable Society and the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS) floral displays made a popular pit stop for all green-fingered enthusiasts.
Food played an important role in the WI’s competition, which this year took the theme of Autumn Extravaganza and formed an integral part of the show with creative craft displays and demonstrations.
Transport to and from the clay pigeon shoot area was provided by Vintage Trailer Tours and more fascinating vintage agricultural machinery was on display at the show – all painstakingly restored from a bygone era of farming by members of the South Eastern Vintage Agricultural Club.
Musical accompaniment was courtesy of Mike Hayes and his steel band and the First Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers Corps of Drums who provided stirring military music for the crowds. The annual Harvest service on Sunday was well supported in the misty sunshine and provided a welcome moment to reflect on the importance of this time of year in the countryside.
Visitors to the Autumn Show & Game Fair also took time to see about the advantages of becoming a member of the South of England Agricultural Society, which offers a host of concessions including free entry to the major shows at the Showground.