Educating children about agriculture – should Argyll be on the map?

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Colin Cameron

Last year the charity reached 70,000 children all over Scotland – except, that is, in Argyll and Bute.

True, there was some crossover from the Dumbarton direction, but the bulk of the region has no coverage by the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET)

The purpose of RHET is to bring farming and the working countryside and its practices to life for young people of all ages, from nursery children to secondary school pupils.

The virtual absence of Argyll and Bute from its map is something RHET officials are keen to address. That was the purpose of a meeting of farmers, teachers and others interested in the countryside on May 28.

Organised for the Edinburgh-based charity by the local branch of NFU Scotland, 40-plus people came along to the Inveraray Inn on a bright, chilly May evening.

Making the journey west to spread the word were RHET chairman George Lawrie and executive officer Katrina Barclay, who outlined the structure and potential benefits of RHET.

With its headquarters at Ingliston, RHET acts as an umbrella body, co-ordinating the existing dozen Countryside Initiatives around Scotland (CI). Each CI is set up as a charity in its own right, with help and support from Ingliston.

The point of each regional CI is to bring children closer to farming, forestry, aquaculture and other rural industries.

Working with partners, the charity would deliver learning opportunities for young people aged three to 18 around the Scottish agricultural environment and the countryside.

Examples of the activities undertaken by RHET include farm visits for schools; classroom speaker talks by volunteer farmers; providing free educational resource materials for schools; outdoor education events across Scotland; competitions and projects for schools; and training farmers and teachers in the delivery of information relating to food and farming.

Regional CIs are supported by co-ordinators, who will liaise with schools and nurseries, organise visits, carry out health and safety checks and make sure everything is in place for events like farm visits.

Present at the meeting was Argyll and Bute Council’s Head of Education Anne Paterson.

‘I am really encouraged to hear about the work of RHET,’ said Mrs Paterson.

Emphasising the the importance placed on outdoor education by the local authority, she added: ‘We have a good history of farm visits in Argyll and Bute, but on a more informal basis. As an education service we encourage schools to be outdoors.

Mrs Paterson concluded: ‘We are really keen to make it happen and to work in partnership with RHET.’

George Lawrie, who has been involved with RHET for around 20 years, said: ‘What I find most rewarding in working with the young people is just seeing the smiles on their faces.’

If you want to find out more, whether as a farmer/crofter, education provider or are involved in any other land use or rural industry, contact Lucy Sumsion by email at lucy.sumsion@nfus.org.uk to express an interest.

PIC:

From left: NFUS Argyll and the Islands region chairnman John Dickson with George Lawrie and Katrina Barclay of Royal Highland Education Trust. 06_a22RHETmeeting01

Katrina Barclay addresses the sizeable audience in the Inveraray Inn as George Lawrie looks on. 06_a22RHETmeeting02