Scotland’s outdoor education centres may be forced to close without financial aid, a Fife MSP has warned.
Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Liz Smith led a debate in parliament on Tuesday where she urged the Scottish Government to safeguard the centres at risk of closure.
The centres are under threat as coronavirus restrictions prevent schools from taking pupils on overnight trips until at least December.
However the centres may be unable to recover from the financial strain and could be lost forever, the Fife politician told MSPs.
To lose that precious asset is an unconscionable thought.”
“As the circumstances stand just now, it is predicted that half of our outdoor centres are likely to close by autumn 2021. If they do, they will likely not return,” she said.
“It is an extremely blunt warning, but when we see the details of the financial situation that faces many centres, in local authorities of every political hue, we realise just how desperate the situation is.
“We are all too aware of how many young people have struggled through this crisis, missing several months of school, feeling lonely and isolated in many cases.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that education in an outdoor environment provides one of the most valuable and rewarding learning experiences for a wide range of pupils, no matter what their background of abilities.
“To lose that precious asset is an unconscionable thought and I hope the Scottish Government heard the loud message coming from the sector.”
Almost 20,000 have now signed a petition calling for urgent intervention after experts suggested hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren could miss out on the life-changing experiences.
The Belmont Centre, near Meigle in Perthshire, is one of many centres under threat of closure.
MSPs from across the political parties joined the debate to share their own tales of how outdoor education enriched their childhood, and the lives of their children.
Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, echoed the importance of outdoor education and pledged to meet with representatives.
He also said he will be working with local authorities to highlight and encourage the need for safe day visits to outdoor centres.
He told MSPs: “We are listening very closely to outdoor education centres in Scotland.
“I pay tribute to all their efforts and to their resilience in the current difficult time, to the support that they are giving our young people, and to their professional commitment and dedication to outdoor education.
“We will explore how those funding streams can be deployed more effectively.”