Signposting the way to responsible countryside behaviour
With the influx of visitors to rural Scotland during the coronavirus pandemic, land managers are in a prime position to promote responsible behaviour in the countryside.
Kerry Allison, a consultant at SAC Consulting - part of SRUC, who provides consultancy and training to rural retail, hospitality, destination and tourism enterprises, is working with land-based businesses which have implemented measures to encourage people to use rural places safely and to mitigate the potentially negative impacts of greater numbers visiting the countryside.
She said while the wellbeing benefits of exercise and getting outside are well known and should be encouraged, it is not always easy to integrate the working environment of farming and forestry with recreational use.
“During lockdown, there were many more people making the most of the countryside for walking, cycling and running, but there is now even greater pressure on rural places given the cancellation of overseas holidays and the influx of holidaymakers and campers,” she said.
“There is a real opportunity for stewards of the land to educate the public on using the countryside safely and to engender an appreciation of the natural environment. While the rewards may not always be financial, it can make managing the co-existence of farming activities and public access easier. There is strong evidence that environmental stewardship and responsible behaviour in the countryside is a by-product of engagement with nature.”
Almost 80 per cent of land in Scotland is agricultural, and education is one way to enable farmland and public access to work together.
Kerry said: “Without too much financial outlay, landowners can guide people to follow a path by creating a nature trail featuring interesting printed facts along the way. If you have holiday cottages, you can create a guide to the local area with unusual sights and wildlife or explain aspects of farming.
“Other simple measures to encourage care in the countryside include providing litter bins, building stiles to allow access to fields you are happy for people to enter, and the creation of places for motorhomes to stop over, which ideally offer waste disposal.
“While many people use the countryside responsibly, there have also been some saddening reports recently of ‘freedom campers’ leaving a horrific mess behind, including human waste
in fields and woodland. We need to be imaginative about how we manage this and how to instil a respect for both the surroundings and the livelihoods.
“It is vital to view public access as something that sits hand-in-hand with earning from the land, biodiversity and conservation and not conflicting with it.”
Posted by SRUC on 14/09/2020