South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has warned the Scottish Government it must do more to help outdoor education centres as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, or risk losing them forever.

The local MSP was speaking during a debate in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, where he highlighted the benefits of outdoor education for children and young people.

During his speech, he read out some messages written by children from Belmont Primary School in Stranraer, about the benefits they had gained from spending time at Abernethy Barcaple Outdoor Centre.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday Colin Smyth said: “When it comes to outdoor education, I genuinely have difficulty understanding the choices the government continues to make.

“I have difficulty understanding that a group of 10 or 20 older adults, who have never met before, can go on a weekend shooting trip but a class of school children who may well spend the week together in a classroom, are not allowed to spend more of that precious time benefiting from outdoor education.

“I can describe exactly what those benefits are but I’m not going to, I’m going to let them do the talking.

“Pupils at Belmont Primary in Stranraer recently wrote to the Deputy First Minister to tell him just what Abernethy Barcaple Outdoor Centre, located in the beautiful, secluded hills near Castle Douglas and Kirkcudbright means to them.

“Emma from Primary Seven said ‘I built up my confidence and overcame challenges while staying away from my parents. I’m shy and I find it hard to make friends but staying in a room with different girls I don’t know so well, boosted my confidence and helped me to make friends.’

“Another letter from Declan said: ‘I had the best experience of my life at Barcaple, my memories will last forever. Going to the outdoor centre helped me learn so many new skills. It was also good for your mental health because of all the fresh air and freedom you get from being outside.’

“You only have to listen to those young people to appreciate what outdoor education means for them, to see what they are missing out on.

“The sector desperately needs support and it desperately needs that support now. Many have not been able to access any of the financial help available to businesses and other third sector organisations. They are very much the forgotten sector.

“At a time when our children are facing part of their childhood growing up in the shadow of this pandemic, the benefits of outdoor education on mental and physical health are arguably needed more than ever before.

“It would be an absolute travesty if the government did not recognise the urgency of this crisis and did not do more to provide the sector with the support they badly need and save our outdoor centres, not just for today’s children but for generations to come.”

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