Meet our new President - Fiona Armstrong
This year’s Presidential Team hail from Dumfries and Galloway. Fiona Armstrong, Lady MacGregor and Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries, leads the team this year as President. As a renowned regional and national broadcaster, Fiona has championed the Scottish countryside through her presenting work on programmes including Border Life and River Journeys. We spoke to Fiona to find out how she got involved in farming, what her hopes are for the Presidential Team over the coming year
The 2020 Presidential Initiative will focus on showing the connections between farming, tourism, forestry, food, coast and countryside in the region and engaging people, particularly young people, with that story.
Fiona Armstrong, Lady MacGregor and Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries, leads the team this year as President. As a renowned regional and national broadcaster, Fiona has championed the Scottish countryside through her presenting work on programmes including Border Life and River Journeys.
We spoke to Fiona to find out how she got involved in farming, what her hopes are for the Presidential Team over the coming year
Can you give us a brief summary of your career?
“As a broadcaster and writer, I have worked for ITN and BBC as a newscaster and reporter. During that time, I reported from places like Uganda and West Africa, Cambodia, America and Europe. As a producer I have made films on subjects ranging from clan history to politics.
“On a lighter note, I presented antiques and cooking programmes, fronted the Executive Lifestyles series for the American network NBC and presented Sky TV’s Tight Lines fishing programme.
“I now present Border Life, a current affairs programme for ITV Border. I have made more than twenty films on Scottish clans. I have a history doctorate and am writing a biography of a family member who was literary confidante to Queen Victoria. I also write columns for newspapers and magazines and have penned two fishing books and two quirky cookbooks. I live in Dumfries and Galloway and am Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries. I’m married to the Chief of Clan Gregor, and otherwise known as Lady MacGregor of MacGregor.”
Have you always been involved with the agriculture industry? Did you grow up with it,
or did you naturally grow into it?
“My involvement with farming goes back forty years. If you live and work in a rural area, farming is one of the main sources of news. As a reporter I have covered numerous stories about the agriculture industry. One of the main ones was, sadly, the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. That was so difficult here in Dumfries and Galloway.
“But I have also reported in happier times - like covering the Kelso Ram Sales. Or the time we filmed a farmer whose sheep had miraculously produced a dozen pink lambs. Needless to say, it was an April Fool’s Day stunt! Over the years I have also made films on the fishing and forestry industries and covered tourism and stories about food and drink production.”
What is your history with RHASS?
“Again, I have followed the work of RHASS over the years in relation to my journalistic work. It is a wonderful organisation, maintaining agricultural standards and helping the wider farming industry.”
How did it feel to become the RHASS President for 2019/20?
“It came out of the blue - and I am honoured and delighted, if slightly in awe of all these agricultural experts I am now meeting!
“It is such a privilege to be asked to take part in this prestigious project and I am really looking forward to learning more about the sector and working with RHASS members over the coming year. It is a real opportunity to showcase what Dumfries and Galloway has to offer. We have a first-class team here and we are determined to showcase the best the region has.”
What do you hope to achieve in your time as President?
“We would like to bring a real flavour of Dumfries and Galloway to the 2020 show. Whether that is our iconic Galloway Beltie, or our amazing food and drink offerings, or our west-coast Oyster Festival.
“We are the largest milk producing region in Scotland. What’s more, the region is home to some of the best livestock genetics in the UK, in the dairy, beef, sheep and horse sectors. We also want to involve young people in the rural story of the region and to inform schools about the work of RHASS.
“On a wider note, I am looking forward to meeting farmers and producers from other parts of the country and hearing their stories. Agriculture is vital to Scotland and it is crucial that we pull together to cherish and promote it.”
Why is what RHASS does still relevant today?
“Farming methods change – but the message remains the same. RHASS may be 235 years old, but the values and beliefs are as they always were: ‘To develop, grow and promote the rural economy of Scotland.’
“RHASS gives rural communities a voice, and its work in education, innovation, in communities and its investment in the future of farming is key. In uncertain times, RHASS is a trusted organisation that can steady the boat – offering advice and support and promoting the highest standards in agriculture, forestry and food. From stewarding the countryside, to protecting rural communities, this society is as relevant today as it ever was.”
How will your experience with broadcasting help you in your role as President?
“As earlier explained, over the last four decades I have covered stories from the foot and mouth epidemic to agricultural shows and local food and drink production. As a broadcaster I have seen many sides of the agricultural story. I hope it will allow me to better understand some of the issues that the farming and wider rural community faces. But I know that I also have much to learn!”
What is it that makes Dumfries and Galloway such a special place to live and work?
“Dumfries and Galloway - we are ‘first in Scotland’, as the advertising slogan goes… We may be viewed by some as the ‘quiet’ part of the country, but there is so much happening here.
“Farming provides the backdrop to our rural and coastal tourism product - the great outdoors, the beautiful landscapes, the green unspoilt open spaces. We are famous for green grass, open countryside and natural beauty. Woodland occupies over 25% of the region’s land area – both are natural carbon sinks, so we can claim to be ‘green’.
“Tourism employs around 7000 people in the region and generates in excess of £300 million to the regional economy. Dumfries and Galloway has some of Scotland’s most famous and dynamic attractions, many of which were ‘born’ from farming. We have amazing artists. Kirkcudbright is known as the Artists’ Town. Wigtown is Scotland’s Book Town.
“We have stunning gardens. We have adventure tourism, mountain biking, cycling and walking… We have poetry and romance. Robert Burns lived and wrote here. Then there is Scotland’s wedding capital in Gretna Green and the romance of Sweetheart Abbey. We have Scotland’s most southerly whisky distilleries. What more can I say to sell this wonderful part of the world?!”