Criticism of the Royal Show was turning into a national sport including claims it had lost its soul and had become a car boot sale, organisers of the event said yesterday as they set out a five year plan to transform it into a bastion for the farming world.

Attempts to change the annual event at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire to appeal to a wider audience after the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001 did nothing to help its core followers, organisers Haymarket Events said.

The company, which took over the running of the show in 2004, said it had revitalised its format, ensuring it went back to its roots by targeting a purely farming audience, with emphasis on some of the new entrants to agriculture, such as the revolution of hobby farmers and smallholders.

Dominique Gill, managing director of Haymarket Events, said attendance figures had dropped by 10,000 from 2004 to 2005 but the event was deemed a success because of the £4 million of international trade generated and the increase in core farmers attending.

She said: "I was quite surprised by what I found in 2004 with the amount of criticism.

"I felt it was perhaps turning into a national sport to criticise the Royal Show.

"People were saying it was a car boot sale, that it was no longer part of agriculture and that it had lost its soul.

"Hundreds of different people were taking a different pop at the show."

She said the five year plan would mirror the changing world of agriculture, noting the increase in new entrants, such as city dwellers moving to the countryside.

She said smallholders were increasing, with the likelihood the industry would be split between the small farmers and the very large operations.

Mrs Gill said entries for livestock events had increased on last year's figures and said problems farmers were facing with the Single Payment Scheme and pre-movement testing to prevent the spread of TB had not affected numbers.

She also reassured poultry keepers that the issue of bird flu would not affect the exhibits, claiming the country had overcome the threat for this year.

Highlights of this year's event include an interactive farm, run by the Government to show farmers how to manage their land environmen-tally to claim grants.

There will also be a focus on beef in light of the lifting of the export ban on British beef. An area dedicated to smallholders will be set up to help the revolution in new farmers and will include demonstrations, livestock displays and talks on getting started in farming.

New equine elements include seven new classes of coloured horses and a new Driven Championship.

Conferences will also take place, looking at climate change, biosecurity, the changing face of rural communities and opportunities for young people.

* The Royal Show will take place at Stoneleigh Park on July 2-5.