Over 100 children from towns and cities have been ditching phones and tablets to learn rural skills such as venison butchery and sheep shearing. In the last few years Angus Glens Moorland Group has been hosting educational lessons for groups ranging from schools to Glasgow apprentices. One hundred and ten kids have enjoyed 25 hours of free education from gamekeepers, shepherds and fishing ghillies, covering everything from roe deer butchery to managing predatory species.
As well as promoting active lifestyles and the hill-to-plate journey of wild food, the lessons have served as an antidote to sedentary hours spent by the children on phones and tablets. Young participants from one school who were surveyed said they spent, on average, 31 hours a week in front of a screen, with one child admitting to devoting 8.5 hours a day. And while most town dwelling participants had the countryside on their doorstep, the majority acknowledged they rarely got out to enjoy activity in the hills or to see the resident wildlife. After learning directly from countryside workers, however, the kids demonstrated higher than usual levels of commitment, motivation and enjoyment; something noted by their teachers.
Last week, Angus Glens Moorland Group was shortlisted for a Developing the Young Workforce Dundee and Angus award for a work placement pilot with Brechin High School. Their education work has been backed by partners, Scottish Youth and the Countryside Education Trust (SYCET), and kids on recent lessons got a chance to shear a sheep and shoot clay targets . “I’d like to think these lessons will encourage the parents to be proactive in getting the kids out more,” said one of the teachers. “The kids really enjoyed the lessons. They were there every week, getting back late and putting effort into it. While the kids were out learning on the local estates, it also gave the organisers the chance to see how they were responding to a life spent largely outdoors. One of the children is now considering a land based career, perhaps in gamekeeping. During the sessions, it was interesting to see kids out of their comfort zones and gaining an insight into our roles in the countryside and life on a working sporting estate,” said Lianne MacLennan of Angus Glens Moorland Group, who developed the learning programme. “There was one child who said, if they were hungry, they would just put something in the microwave, so it was good to be able to teach them about the health benefits of wild food, the management which helps produce it and how it is then prepared. The kids visited a game larder and saw demonstrations of roe deer butchery. They enjoyed a barbecue, prepared by Gamechanger BBQ, of slow cooked rabbit tacos, venison koftas and pheasant pitas. They experienced a more modern way of cooking game which helped to connect them to the food.”
Organisers were keen to offer the children a grassroots view of the countryside that did not shy away from realities. “Some of the kids started off like blank pages but left with a better understanding of what happens in the countryside, from biting ticks to casting a fly to why a deer stalker will select an old or injured animal to control. Because the lessons were entirely led by real working people, participants weren’t given a romantic view, but they seemed to appreciate that honesty more,” added Lianne MacLennan.
During 4 sessions with three local High Schools, topics such as species identification, deer management and heather burning were covered. One of the pupils wrote that they got the chance to see things they would not normally encounter in the town such as the amount of birds and wildlife.
Another wrote that the lessons had made them more ‘mindful about wildlife’ and how ‘meat is prepared’.