WATCHING spring lambs take their first shaky steps moments after being born is a wonder and offers hope for the season ahead.

It is something not everyone gets to share, but is one of the success stories of how the farming community pulled together in lockdown with live video streams of the agricultural equivalent of TV show One Born Every Minute.

Scotland’s farm tourism, or agritourism as it is becoming known, had been proving popular for the past few years with farms offering day tours or holiday accommodation to help people discover the great outdoors.

And when staycations came into their own last year with families wanting to holiday safely in the great outdoors, the sector saw a knock-on effect when tourism reopened in July. Families booked accommodation at sites in rural Scotland offering a safe and unique environment.

However, it is hoped that the recent interest in exploring what is on your own doorstep and enjoying the green space around you is something that will continue beyond what has so far begun as a restricted 2021.

“Hours after the beginning of last year’s March lockdown, businesses were forced to close and people faced uncertainty, but for us it was straight into lambing and

14-hour days with early starts,” said Caroline Millar, one of the leading experts for Scottish Agritourism set up to represent the sector and help it to develop.

“I think those of us involved in agritourism really came together and while we couldn’t physically welcome people to the land we began live farm tours to offer people a virtual access to the countryside and it coincided with lambing,” she added.

“We had people viewing the videos from all over the country including further afield and brought a sense of community from rural locations from east to west or north to south. Some people might have tuned in to see what could go wrong and we did have one incident with a sheep trying to escape during a live link.

“From those videos it then sparked an interest from people wanting to holiday on farms or enjoy day tours. From shepherd huts to luxury lodges people were getting in touch and wanted a different experience.”

While there might now be a name for the sector, Mrs Millar, who represented the industry on the Scottish Government’s tourism recovery task force, said there is nothing new in the idea of agritourism.

“I grew up on a farm and my mum and granny were used to cooking for large numbers with local farm produce and we were also used to having a full house,” Mrs Millar added. “I suppose the agritourism of the 1970s was the farm B&Bs and then we saw the growth of farm shops, food tours and festivals from the 1980s and 1990s. Now I think we have a sector where there is real potential for growth.

“If someone can come and enjoy a day out, a farm trip with a walk in the hills nearby and then enjoy a cheese-tasting or steak-tasting opportunity at the end of it we are making it an attractive possibility.”

Mrs Millar was brought up on the family farm near Caputh, Perthshire and worked and lived in Australia and New Zealand before returning home. Now you will find her and her family running their own mixed arable farm, Balkello at Auchterhouse in Angus, which lies just two miles north of the Dundee city boundary and stretches to the highest point in the Sidlaw Hills, as well as The Hideaway Experience, a luxury retreat for couples. They began with a converted bothy and then went on to create four other retreats. One of her many other hats is running the Go Rural for Business consultancy to help support the development of agritourism and food and drink producers, and she now leads Scottish Agritourism which brings experts and operators together.

“As devastating as some aspects of running a rural business were last year, I think we have emerged from it as a stronger farming tourism network,” she added. “I think when we are able to welcome the international market back, if we can keep the momentum going, people might consider Scotland as an agritourism destination.

“It has taken us some time to reach this stage even with the setbacks due to coronavirus, but we have seen a knock-on effect with people wanting to get out to green spaces, enjoy fresh air and good, local produce. People realise that getting out in the great outdoors is valuable to their mental health and wellbeing.

“I think how we have come together now is a great platform for us to go forward.”

Just how much agritourism is worth to the Scottish is hard to quantify. However, in some of the leading European agritourism centres, Italy and Austria, it is worth between €1 billion and €1.5bn. And such is the interest in how the sector can grow in Scotand, VisitScotland and Scottish Agritourism recently announced a growth tracker for the sector to measure the number of farms in and entering agritourism, and the economic impact.

Chris Greenwood, VisitScotland senior insights manager, said agritourism is a fantastic way to enjoy the best of rural Scotland and is a growing trend.

“We know that the challenges of 2020 have led to an increase in interest for outdoor activities, with many people seeking to explore more remote destinations,” said Mr Greenwood

“Research shows that travel and connecting to nature can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing and we are already seeing some Scottish agritourism businesses embracing that trend by offering farm tours, animal handling sessions or combining physical pursuits such as biking or paddleboarding with the traditional farming environment.

“Adapting and diversifying Scotland’s tourism offering will be a key as the industry looks to recover from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is huge potential for Scottish agritourism to build on its previous success and capitalise on the demand for green space, creating and developing experiences that get people outdoors, in the fresh air and reconnecting with the natural environment once again.”

Read more: First look round Glasgow restaurant which reopens its doors on Christmas Eve

HeraldScotland: Luxury couples restreat at the Hideaway ExperienceLuxury couples restreat at the Hideaway Experience

Couples retreat at the Hideaway Experience at Balkello Farm

HeraldScotland: Stunning views from the Hideaway ExperienceStunning views from the Hideaway Experience

Stunning views at the Hideaway Experience