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'Make Countryside Code part of Scottish school curriculum', rural workers' protest group urges Holyrood leaders; Land and river managers 'at sharp end of access abuses such as fly-tipping, wildfires, out of control dogs and people unaware of key livestock and wildlife breeding seasons'


By Hector MacKenzie

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SGA chairman Alex Hogg.
SGA chairman Alex Hogg.

Organisers of the first Rural Workers’ Protest have written to Holyrood’s party leaders asking for the Countryside Code to become a part of the Scottish school curriculum.

The idea is one of five key policy asks delivered to Parliamentarians and MSPs following a day of online action last Friday, which generated over 7000 social media posts.

The 15-hour Protest, #RWP21, was organised by The Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scotland’s regional moorland groups.

It united gamekeepers, shepherds, river ghillies, rural vets, individual farmers and foresters, equestrian interests, businesses and other sectors of Scotland’s countryside.

It was also backed by around 15 MSPs and election candidates from four political parties.

The group says that the idea that the Countryside Code should become part of the school curriculum is already beginning to receive some cross-party MSP backing, for the next Parliamentary term.

Greater access following the Land Reform Act has opened up the countryside to more people and enjoying nature has been a key element of enduring lockdown for many.

However, land and river managers are also often at the sharp end of access abuses such as fly-tipping, wildfires, out of control dogs and people unaware of key livestock and wildlife breeding seasons.

“Traditional rural workers have vast skills and knowledge, often built up over many years on river and land.Holyrood should be for them, equally, and not weighted in favour of those with letters after their name and lobbying consultants.” - Lianne MacLennan

The protest organisers feel that, for the long term, educating Scottish children in the key messages of the Countryside Code will help to match rights with responsibilities when it comes to people enjoying the countryside.

“The #RWP21 protest was a good example of the connectedness of rural Scotland,” said Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman, Alex Hogg, who has been in forestry and gamekeeping for over 40 years.

“People took part in great number and there was a unity about what workers in traditional rural sectors would like to see.

“Having the Code embedded in schools would go a long way to making the countryside better for all. In lockdown we saw the two sides of access. We saw the benefits to peoples’ mental and physical health of getting into the countryside and enjoying nature but we also saw the problems for people whose workplaces are the countryside.

“In the short term, some of the particular localised issues are being dealt with but, in general, developing that sense of respect in all of our children would be a good legacy from our protest and we hope it will be taken forward in the next Parliament.”

The Protest organisers also wrote to the First Minister and leaders of the current political parties seeking better representation in Holyrood for the practical knowledge of rural workers.

Many of the protesters feel marginalised by the centralised Parliament which they feel can be distant from their everyday work and ignores indigenous knowledge in Bills.

There was also a call for an auditing system to be introduced to ensure the tax payer is receiving value for money from funded conservation projects such as attempts to save endangered Capercaillie.

The protesters are also calling for accelerated action on the negatives of fish farming identified by 2 separate Holyrood committee inquiries.

Lianne MacLennan of co-organisers Scotland’s regional moorland groups said: “Traditional rural workers have vast skills and knowledge, often built up over many years on river and land.Holyrood should be for them, equally, and not weighted in favour of those with letters after their name and lobbying consultants.”

Thousands of people signed an online ‘Growing Protest’ page, which was presented to Scottish Government by the organisers.

The 5 Key Asks are here: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2021/03/rwp21-5-asks.html


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