SHEEP have been an integral part of Scotland’s culture for thousands of years providing essential wool, milk, and meat from the poorest of grazing.

They were so valuable that greed took hold, with landowners cruelly clearing entire communities of people and denuding our hills through overgrazing.

Yet now Scotch lamb is disappearing from our shop shelves as supermarkets increasingly give prominence to imports from the other side of the world.

At a time of year when Scottish mutton is readily available, one shocked shopper, Claire Taylor, @cjtaylor92, took to social media to highlight what she called “the betrayal of Scottish farmers during what is a deeply challenging time for the sector”, with not a single Scottish lamb product on the shelves in her local Kilmarnock Asda or Tesco stores.

The National Farmers Union of Scotland is so concerned about the lack of Scottish farm-assured meats on supermarket shelves, it monitors and highlights the situation through its “Shelf Watch” campaigns.

Janet Roberts is one of three shepherds with the Keoldale Sheep Stock Club, caring for a flock of North Country Cheviots which roam across 30,000 acres of peatbog by the Kyle of Durness in a form of common grazing once seen across much of Scotland.

Her Facebook photo blog, the Nor’Westerly Shepherd, offers rarely seen images of this spectacular part of Scotland, cataloguing the life of the sheep in her care, aided in her work by a small band of enthusiastic Border Collies.

Janet is dismayed by the way imports from Australia and New Zealand are given prominence over local Scotch lamb.

“When you think how far it is coming – how sustainable is that?” Janet asks. “The way we farm is a lovely, natural system. The meat and even the fats on the mutton and lamb are healthy for you with the kind of grazing they are on and the kind of life they lead.

“I am of the opinion that local should be clearly on the shelf. It’s one of the reasons I shop at my local Lidl – they always make an effort to stock local produce.

“Scotch lamb plays a very important part of the economic landscape in the north-west Highlands. The Australia trade deal shows the blatant disregard politicians in London have for agriculture. The fact they are prepared to push this deal through without scrutiny tells you everything you need to know.”

The new Australian trade deal is the first fully negotiated by the UK Government since Brexit. It was met with delight by the Australian Prime Minister and Aussie farmers but, outwith the Brexit faithful, the response here has been one of shock, dismay, and anger.

Trade to, with, and from other nations can be a very good thing when standards are high and the deal is fair, but this sets an alarming precedent. As well as opening the door to banned chemicals and shocking animal welfare issues, this deal is poised to deal our food and drink sector a heavy blow.

Worse yet, the assurance the deal would be debated in Westminster looks like it’s being quietly dropped, a worrying indication of the way future trade deals might circumvent parliamentary debate.

Back on Twitter, another farmer, Jock Gibson – @EdinvaleFarm – also writes of supermarket shelves full of imported lamb, with our local meat absent from display.

But he raises a challenge: what are we going to do about it? It is, he points out, up to us to make the case for Scottish produce.

Some supermarkets, such as Lidl, take no persuasion to give Scotland’s food and drink a clear place on their shelves. A Lidl spokesperson said: “Lidl is incredibly proud of its Scottish credentials and ongoing commitment to Scottish farmers and producers, with hundreds of Scottish products stocked in stores all year round.”

Supermarkets respond to how we, the customers, act. Even as prices on the shelves soar, Brexit makes it possible to import cheaper, lower quality produce from elsewhere, hitting our jobs, our communities, and our pockets while they quietly rake in the profits.

If we want to make sure we have the security which comes from local food and drink production, if we want to have high animal welfare and good food as standard, we have to demand it. We have to buy it.

We have to keep Scotland the Brand.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign