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Caithness News Bulletins August 2005

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A new "Mey Selections" brand to market beef, lamb and mutton from the North Highlands is launched today by The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay.

The brand is the result of fifteen months' work behind the scenes on a new initiative for the North Highlands which aims to promote and develop the North Highlands' economy in relation to agriculture, tourism and the built environment.

The North Highland Initiative is a direct result of The Duke of Rothesay's involvement in bringing together the farming community, local businesses and the tourism industry to try to address some of the challenges facing rural communities in the far north of Scotland.

Its three main objectives are:

  •  To improve distribution and access to UK markets (and beyond) for food and other produce

  • To encourage and grow sustainable tourism

  • To breathe new life into the rich and diverse built heritage, in turn aimed at improving tourism prospects

Following extensive market research and planning the "Mey Selections" brand has been developed to enhance the marketing presence of produce from the North Highlands' area in niche food markets. As the NHI's first venture, the brand already has a unique selling point in the packaging artwork which was painted by the Duke of Rothesay himself, featuring a view of the Castle of Mey from the walled garden, binding together the Castle of Mey's long Royal association with the produce of the area.

Chairman of the NHI, Lord Maclennan of Rogart says the intention is to make a real and lasting change to the prosperity of the area and its people.

He says "It was clear from the very first series of meetings that there was a common will amongst all sectors of producers in the area to create a joint platform for driving forward ideas and projects and promoting the special qualities of the North Highlands.

"The fact that we are able to unveil the "Mey Selections" brand today shows that there is real intent behind NHI as well as enough support and commitment across the public and private sectors to make a real impact on the economy."

As well as promoting produce, NHI is also taking strategic roles in developing tourism and curating the built environment.

One hundred and thirty tourism businesses - from small family businesses to hotels, restaurants, self-catering establishments and owners/operators of visitor attractions - have already banded together to form a new organisation which will work to encourage tourism in the area. "We plan to develop and implement a marketing campaign, and encourage operators to adopt the brand image in their own publicity".

In relation to the built environment the area's rich heritage of vernacular buildings and stonework is currently being surveyed with a view to developing a programme of refurbishment and regeneration for new uses.

NHI is partnered in this project by The North Highland College and Tulloch Construction Group who are committed to increasing the number of apprentices coming into the industry by developing construction industry accredited courses. This will ensure a greater number of suitably trained and experienced craftsmen to restore these buildings to a high standard.  Already eight advanced vernacular skills trainee places have been made available in the autumn.

Project Coordinator Robert Gray, on a two year secondment from UKAEA to head up the Initiative, says he is confident the positive effects of NHI will be spread throughout.

He says, "There is a lot of work to be done on these three fronts but the potential is there for us all to see. We have a landscape rich in heritage and produce which has maybe suffered from a lack of cohesion when it comes to promoting our best assets. But we believe we can make a real impact and, working together with the appropriate agencies, add value to the North Highlands' economy to the benefit of farming communities, the local tourist industry and the region as a whole."