Scotland’s outdoor education centres will be “lost forever” if they do not receive government support, campaigners have warned.
Outdoor organisations say centres are already closing and this will accelerate when the furlough scheme ends. There are fears that 50% of the 36 facilities, 13 of those in the Highlands and Argyll, may shut with half of the 600 employees facing redundancy.
Mountaineering Scotland has now urged John Swinney, the deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for education and skills, to help the sector survive the crisis.
Last night the Scottish Government said the funding request is being considered
In a letter on behalf of a number of outdoor groups, the Mountaineering Council stressed the decades of invaluable life and learning experiences for children and young people provided by Scottish outdoor centres and the effect their loss would have on a number of sports.
Each year 105,000 young people are given the chance to try sports including sailing, canoeing, snowsports, cycling, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking and hillwalking.
It said adventure tourism is also an important part of the Scottish economy and the centres play a critical role in providing jobs in rural Scotland.
Stuart Younie, CEO of Mountaineering Scotland, said in the letter he welcomed additional funding provided by the Scottish and UK governments in some areas, but added: “However this funding does not yet address the significant challenge of keeping these centres open.
“These centres are a resource which is evidenced to help to close the attainment gap, develop resilience, confidence and life skills, whilst improving the physical and mental health and wellbeing of children and young people from all over Scotland.”
He added: “Without a support package these outdoor education centres will be lost forever.”
A petition started by the #SaveYourOutdoorCentres campaign had been signed by more than 22,000 people by last night.
Dave Spence, CEO of Scottish Outdoor Education Centres, said his organisation works with an average of 12,000 young people a year in 1,500 schools and delivers 100,000 outdoor learning days.
“No organisation or group of people will be able to pick up the sheer volume of outdoor activity that currently takes place. Just a few weeks ago, we were focused on extending our reach to other young people; now we are staring at extinction.
“Once closed, we are unlikely to have the money to reopen centres. A relatively small amount of financial support now, to keep their teams active and enable centres to bounce back perhaps next year, would retain these valuable, national assets.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Outdoor learning is an important aspect of Scotland’s curriculum and we are fully committed to supporting outdoor education providers.
“The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science met representatives from the sector this week to discuss their concerns and their request for funding. Ministers are currently considering this request and will write to MSPs who took part in the recent debate on outdoor education in due course.”
He said he government commissioned the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education to develop guidance for schools and local authorities on day visits to outdoor education centres, published last month.”