THERE ARE few places more breath-taking than our own Scottish countryside, from its rugged mountains, to its miles of golden beaches, rolling green hills, to its dramatic coastlines, and it would appear that it took a world pandemic for many people to see the beauty on offer on their very own doorstep.

I have spent the past sixteen months interviewing farmers whilst glued to my desk, longing to return to travelling the breadth of this beautiful country, sharing the stories of the custodians who conserve our greatest national treasure - our magnificent landscapes.

The past year has been one of great sadness for myself and those around me, having lost many family members and close friends, but one real light in a mostly dark year, was a short holiday with one of my best friends to visit her parents’ home on the Isle of Iona.

For three glorious days I wandered around in a daze, mesmerised by the clear blue waters, white sandy beaches and amazing local wildlife on offer. I was lucky enough to meet some of the local crofters and their fold of Highland cattle which roamed the grounds of Iona Abbey, with jaw-dropping views over to Mull. One night, we watched the sun setting over the bay as a local fisherman checked his lobster pots and then brought his catch straight to our door.

I was so overcome with the beauty and tranquillity of this place, that it struck me how often we have come to take these trips and this scenery for granted. We have been utterly spoilt by having landscapes like these at our very fingertips.

Over the last year, something has changed for many of us. We reignited our love affair with Scotland’s iconic landscapes and even now, with travel routes abroad reopening, many of us are opting for the staycation option.

The whole country appears to be jumping in their campervans, packing up their tents and setting off to explore what this beautiful country has to offer.

Scotland’s farmers and crofters are witnessing this trend and the business opportunities it opens up. With the future of farming in a post-Brexit era casting great shadows over future profitability, diversifying in to agritourism is a perfect way to make businesses more sustainable longer term.

With lots of farms and crofts located in beautiful spots across the country, they are uniquely situated to offer perfect rural getaways.

As well as capitalising on the growing appetite for buying local, by offering farm to fork foodie experiences, many are investing in glamping pods and hot tub getaways, outdoor activity experiences, farm shops, off-road driving experiences and coastal cafes. Some farms even offer an authentic farming experience for those looking to really escape to the countryside this summer, from farm tours to sheep shearing experiences and even options to become a farmer for the day.

The growing agritourism movement is a fantastic way for visitors to explore some of Scotland’s hidden gems, whilst supporting small businesses and locking in spending in those local communities.

No part of rural Scotland is the same and only through travel can we fully appreciate the changing patchwork quilt of the Scottish countryside and the farmers and crofters who have dedicated their lives to preserving these landscapes.

However, with many more farms welcoming the public on to their land, it is important to remember the responsibility that come with spending time in the great outdoors.

The majority of people take great care and treat the countryside with respect but sadly there are growing reports of those who are abusing these surroundings and causing huge distress to those working in and visiting scenic spots.

Recently, a small group of young men camping at Glenmore were reported to have caused harm to local wildlife and verbally abused local rangers. Forestry and Land Scotland received complaints from distressed visitors about the young campers kicking ducks, using an axe on trees, lighting a fire on peaty ground, and littering an environmentally designated area.

Incidents like these are incredibly upsetting for those involved and can damage the reputation of other visitors by leaving a bad taste in the mouth of local bodies and residents.

With the summer holidays in full swing and families and friends planning their next big staycation, It is important to remember that whether you are walking, camping or picnicking in the countryside, to treat it with respect and as the saying goes, take only memories, leave only footprints.

Be mindful of walking in fields where you could damage crops, always look for designated paths. Keep your dog on a lead around livestock and where it could disturb ground nesting birds in areas such as moorland, forests, grasslands and loch shores.

During sustained periods of dry weather, BBQ fires can pose severe wildfire risk, so must be avoided at all costs, unless in a designated area. Take your litter home with you, close gates behind you and chose routes avoiding livestock where possible and ask for permission if camping in someone’s field - always plan ahead.

Farmers and crofters take great pride in preserving our landscapes for future generations, but as the staycation trend continues to grow, so too does the weight of responsibility on the public to play its part in protecting and conserving this beautiful countryside.