Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code should be added to school curriculum, says rural group

A rural workers group has called for Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code to be taught to all school pupils in a bid to protect the countryside.

Alex Hogg pictured top left.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) headed a Rural Workers’ Protest last month which saw thousands lobbying the government to improve countryside policies and urged politicians to take more interest in rural life.

One of the group’s key demands was enforcing greater education around the Outdoor Access Code - a government guide on how to respect the countryside.

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Many beauty spots in Scotland have been blighted by visitors fly-tipping, causing fires and leaving litter - in some cases entire campsites – offences which have heightened during the pandemic as people explore locally.

Photo taken by Steven Burke at Barry Mill in Angus after a group of young people visited the area over Easter weekend picture: Steven Burke

Over Easter weekend alone, large groups were seen lighting fires at Coul Reservoir in Glenrothes and Stirling Council confirmed multiple incidents of verbal abuse and aggressive behaviour directed at staff working at Ben A’an and around Balmaha.

It is hoped that if people are educated about the countryside from a young age, starting with the code as part of the school curriculum, it may help to alleviate these issues.

Alex Hogg, from Perthshire and chairman of SGA, said: “The countryside is absolute mayhem right now.

“Just last week there was a group of about 30 young people gathered at Gladhouse Reservoir setting fire to things, entire campsites left abandoned in the woods and dogs worrying livestock.

“I simply can’t get my head around the dumping of tents. I certainly couldn’t afford to do that at that age. This level of littering we are seeing is absolute murder for the countryside.

“I know it’s not an immediate fix but we need to start with education. If the code was part of the school curriculum I believe it would help bring people up knowing more about how to treat the countryside and leave it in a better state than it is now.”

Trustee of rewilding charity Scotland the Big Picture Alan Hepburn, who has been teaching at a primary school in Edinburgh for the last 15 years, said more needs to be done to educate pupils about how to respect wildlife and the countryside.

He said there are only two mentions of biodiversity as a topic in schools and that some children go through primary without being taught anything about the countryside because the curriculum is “overcrowded” and teachers have to pick and chose topics.

“The cornerstones of the code are about respecting others who work and live in the countryside,” said Mr Hepburn, “so, on the face of it, I think it should be in the curriculum, it’s a starting point and I am glad SGA raised this.

“But there are also wider issues that we need to address in educating children about wildlife. There needs to be a review of the science curriculum to revise how we teach topics like farming and the environment.”

National Trust Volunteer Steve Burke however said waiting for the code to be taught in schools will be "too late” for some of the country’s beauty spots.

Over Easter weekend, Mr Burke found abandoned tents littered with drugs and alcohol at the Barry Mill, a traditional water-powered oatmeal mill in Angus.

“It was disgusting,” he said.

“These selfish people should be made to do community service for what they’ve done. We need stricter measures in place to really put an end to this behaviour.

“Educating people on the code is one thing, but we need emergency legislation to tackle this issue otherwise we are going to be in for a heck of a summer.”

A spokeswoman from Education Scotland said it “hopes” to integrate the Outdoor Access Code with the current outdoor learning programme next week to encourage more responsible use of Scotland’s countryside.

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