Pictured left to right are: Jayne Gracie, Assistant Principal at Borders College, Charlie Blance and Charlie's mum Catherine.
The achievements of the country’s top land-based and aquaculture trainees were celebrated at Lantra Scotland’s 18th and biggest ever learner of the year awards, the ALBAS (Awards for Land-based and Aquaculture Skills).
Around 240 guests, including finalists and their families, event supporters, employers, training providers and industry leaders, gathered at the event in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dunblane Hydro, which was hosted by Jim Smith, well-known Perthshire farmer and stand-up comedian.
Jim went on to present the winners and runners-up awards for agriculture, aquaculture, equine, environmental conservation, game and wildlife, horticulture, land-based engineering and trees and timber industries.
In addition, there were prizes for Higher Education, Secondary Schools, Modern Apprentice of the Year, CARAS (Council for Awards of Agricultural Societies) and the Anna Murray Award for Partnership Working.
One of the highlights of the evening was the announcement that the inspiring young Game and Wildlife trainee Charlie Blance had won the Overall Winner Award, the highest accolade of the night. Charlie also won the Game and Wildlife industry category and was one of four CARAS winners.
Charlie, aged 20 from Methven, Perthshire, did an HNC in Gamekeeping and Wildlife Management through Borders College, then worked at Dunan Estate in Pitlochry.
“To be chosen as the Overall Winner, and to win my industry category and a CARAS Award, is more than I could ever have dreamt. It’s really important that women are seen succeeding in this industry and I hope my story will be an example for others looking to do the same. Thanks to all my tutors at Borders College and my employers at Dunan Estate, not to mention my family. Without their support, none of this would be possible.”
Mary Thomson, Curriculum Learning Manager for Rural Skills at Borders College, said:
“Charlie has been an excellent student and a fantastic ambassador for the rural sector. Her observational skills, attention to detail along with an excellent knowledge and understanding of the working countryside was apparent whether out in the field on practical tasks or within her written projects.
“We are delighted she has been shortlisted and wish her all the best in the next stage of the awards process.”
Overall Runner-up was Shaun MacLeod, who was also the Modern Apprentice of the Year Winner, a joint CARAS winner, and winner of the agriculture category. Shaun, aged 17 from Urquhart, Elgin, has been doing an apprenticeship in agriculture with Matheson's Ltd through SRUC.
The new Anna Murray Partnership Working Award was presented by Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, to Women in Agriculture Taskforce, a group which was set up to identify and eliminate barriers to women in entering, progressing, leading and networking across the agricultural industries.
The four winners of the prestigious CARAS (Council for Awards of Agricultural Societies) awards were: Jack Young, Shaun MacLeod, Valentina Romano and Charlie Blance. They were established by the UK’s four national agricultural societies, including the Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) to recognise distinguished achievements in agriculture and related land-based industries.
RHASS also supports a Secondary Schools Award in recognition of schools with exceptional standards in rural skills training. Joint winners this year were Kemnay Academy in Inverurie and Wallace Hall Academy in Dumfries and Galloway.
Higher Education Award Winner at SCQF Level 10 was Valentina Romano, aged 29 from Brechin. Higher Education Award Winner at SCQF Level 7–8 was Jack Young, aged 19 from Crossford, Carluke. Valentina has been doing a Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management at Dawnfresh Seafoods through NAFC Marine Centre UHI. Jack did an HND in Agriculture with SRUC and now works for WG Young at Overton Farm.
Jean’s Jam Award, for an inspiring mentor or trainer, went to Daye Tucker. Daye runs Carbeth Home Farm near Glasgow, and mentored this year’s agriculture industry Runner-up, Lawrence Martin. The prize was donated by training instructor Elspeth Watson in memory of her friend Jean Costello.
The Tam Tod Trophy went to 15-year-old Xavio Vastano who also won the School Pupil Award. This award is made in association with Countryside Learning Scotland to an outstanding young learner and was created in memory of the late Tam Tod, described as a well-loved gamekeeper, ghillie and lifelong friend of the countryside.
The ALBAS are organised by Lantra Scotland, the sector skills council for the land-based, aquaculture and environmental conservation industries.
According to Lantra’s Scotland Director, Liz Barron-Majerik, the awards are a very effective way of recognising the success of trainees in Scotland’s rural sector, as well as getting employers involved in growing the next generation of talent.
“The ALBAS showcase the many incredible people who have joined Scotland’s land-based, aquaculture and environmental conservation industries and who are getting their careers underway.
“I know our judges were very impressed again with the quality of the nominations, so I would like to congratulate all of the finalists, as well as the winners. They were all of a very high standard indeed.
“We’re of course very grateful to have the support of a range of people and organisations who make holding an event like this possible, including our main sponsor Skills Development Scotland, and Aberdeenshire Council, British Agricultural and Garden Machinery Association, Elspeth Watson, Equido Horsemanship, Marine Scotland, Royal Highland & Agricultural Society Scotland, Rural Skills Scotland, SAOS, Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, Scottish Forestry, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Qualifications Authority, Scottish Salmon Company, and SRUC.
“Thanks also to the independent judging panel, who comprise: agriculture and rural affairs journalist Erika Hay (chair of the panel); HR training officer for the Scottish Salmon Company, Jennifer Allison; smallholder, former agricultural banker and vice-president of RHASS, Jimmy McLean; learning and development manager with Forestry and Land Scotland, Keith Paterson; Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies, former chair of the CARAS Scottish panel and farmer, Keith Redpath; head of training with The Scottish Salmon Company, Lisa Connell; Jane Craigie Marketing team member Rebecca Dawes, and fisheries manager with Stirling Council Fisheries, Scott Mason”.