A cross-party group of MSPs is seeking £3 million in emergency funding to enable outdoor education centres in Scotland to survive the next six months.
There are fears as many as half of the 36 Scottish facilities – 13 of those in the Highlands and Argyll – may shut, with the potential for 300 of the 600 employees the sector supports to face redundancy.
With doomsday scenario in mind, a letter has been sent by a large cross-party group of MSPs seeking immediate action.
In it, they state that every year about 105,000 young people have had the chance of a school camp or residential trip, affording them access to sailing, canoeing, snowsports, cycling, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking and hillwalking.
These are not, however, allowed under current Covid-19 restrictions and youngsters are missing out on such experiences.
Outdoor centres rely on the income from residential trips and it is predicted that without emergency financial support, then many will be gone by mid-2021.
Closures have already been announced by both Girlguiding Scotland and the Abernethy Trust.
Liz Smith MSP, speaking on behalf of the group, said: “It is abundantly clear this has become an extremely urgent matter, which is why there is cross-party agreement for this letter to be sent with immediate effect.
“We cannot allow outdoor education centres to close. They are needed more now than ever before and I hope the Scottish Government will act now to secure their future.
“Too many young lives depend on this, especially in many of our more disadvantaged communities, for whom outdoor education is a life-changing experience.”
Martin Davidson, a director of The Outward Bound Trust said the support from many MSPs from all parties, from over 22,500 petition signatories, and from many in civic society “demonstrates how outdoor education centres significant improve and transform the lives of young people”.
“With the furlough scheme ending in a matter of weeks many outdoor centres will close forever, denying future generations the benefits,” he said.
“The Scottish Government must provide financial support in a matter of days to prevent this catastrophe.”
Katie Docherty, chief executive of Scouts Scotland, added: “Outdoor Residential Centres have been without income since March and the situation is now completely critical.
“Without emergency support Scottish centres will begin to close within weeks.
“Outdoor residential centres provide amazing educational experiences to more than 105,000 Scottish children and young people every year – developing confidence, resilience and skills for life.
“Residentials are evidenced to improve wellbeing, physical and mental health and they help to close the attainment gap.
“They are never more needed but within weeks they will begin to close forever and it is children and young people who will lose out.”
In addition, the outdoor residential sector supports thousands of jobs both directly within the sector but also in the rural economies where many centres are based.
The petition was launched last month, under the banner of #SaveYourOutdoorCentres, and now has 22,500 signatures.
More than 35 organisations have also come out in support of the campaign, including EIS, Children 1st, and the National Parent Teacher Forum.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are fully committed to supporting outdoor education providers.
“The Scottish Government has taken a number of steps to support the work of outdoor centres during the pandemic.
“Outdoor centres have been able to apply to broader support funds such as the Third Sector Resilience Fund and the new Youth Work Education Recovery Fund, which will provide funding awards of £20,000-£60,000 to partnership bids.
“We worked with the Scottish Advisory Panel on Outdoor Education to develop comprehensive guidance for schools and local authorities on the positive role that they can play in children’s education and facilitated links between outdoor education centres and local authority partners to encourage and support the use of outdoor centres and their staff.”