PROMOTING careers in the rural sector has often been overlooked by the schooling structure, with rural skills education deemed as a subject for the lower achiever.

At a time where technological advances in farming, forestry and horticulture are ever evolving, there has never been more evidence to disprove this theory, with a wide academic range of rural career options on offer.

School pupils from Crieff High School and Breadalbane Academy gathered at SRUC’s two research farms, Kirkton and Auchtertyre, Crianlarich, to see for themselves the range of career options on offer and meet with experts from all corners of the rural sector to hear the latest in new technologies.

SRUC, in coordination with Developing Young Workforce Perth and Kinross were behind the day and Lesley English from DYWF explained why these hands on days are so important: “There is a huge gap between school and work, often too much focus goes on attainment, but pupils need to be equipped to enter working life. At DYWF we aim to encourage employer links with schools, and we want pupils to know what it is like in the world of work and stress that not everything is about going straight to university.”

Throughout an action-packed day of workshops, the senior four pupils tried their hand at forestry simulation, learnt about drone technology and digital mapping and saw the latest in livestock handling facilities.

For those keen to hear more about scientific routes on offer, Moredun were on hand with a laboratory set-up explaining diagnostic techniques; allowing pupils to examine faecal egg counts under the microscope and conduct their own ‘fake’ liver fluke tests.

Organising the event for the second year in a row, head of Hill and Mountain Research Centre, Prof Davy McCracken explained the purpose of the day: “We want to highlight to teachers and pupils that there is a huge range of careers out there for a range of academic expertise. Today we have been able to demonstrate that technology is a huge part of farming and we want people to associate rural education with the accolade it deserves as unfortunately it can be associated with the dumping ground for pupils who struggle academically.”

These thoughts were echoed by a teacher from Crieff High School, who stressed that it is a battle to get schools on board with valuing rural education as part of the curriculum: “For the last five years we have been offering our pupils one day a week in outdoor education but we still haven’t been able to offer a rural skills course,” said Rachel Gallagher. “It all comes down to a budget and too often rural skills is seen as a doss subject for lower achievers, where teachers can place pupils who are less engaged so unfortunately it is often not prioritised.”

On the contrary, Breadalbane Academy was one of the first schools in Scotland to offer a rural skills course and pupils can learn about forestry, gamekeeping, farming and horticulture with opportunities for placements on a local farm and community gardens.

On the day, the forestry station was a real hit with the pupils, who were astounded to hear that trained harvesters could earn up to £60,000 a year. With plenty of jobs up for grabs in the sector, Mike Strachan from the Forestry Commission was keen to make an impression on the pupils: “In the next 10 years we need 10,000 folk working in forestry – we want you all to know that there is a future in the sector and a bright, profitable one too,”

The pupils were excited to see some of the developments which have been taking place on site at the farms, with research into breeding genetics and selecting high performance animals. They were able to see how electronic identification tags allow the staff to monitor weight and feed efficiency and they learnt how investment in technology such as a sheep conveyor system had improved animal welfare and farmer safety on the farm – allowing routine checks and dosing to be conducted in a controlled, safe environment.

Geography enthusiasts amongst the group were blown away by the digital mapping demonstration by director of Geo Geo, Paul Georgie, who explained how he has been using his drone technology to digitise the farming landscape – allowing farmers to advance into precision agriculture.

"Digital geography is the future and we have been able to use our technology to allow for precision agriculture; helping farmers minimise waste when it comes to activities such as spreading fertiliser and also to use infra red lighting to monitor soil health," said Mr Georgie. "It is so important to digitise our historical landscape – if we can map out what is happening to our land then we can see how the world is changing and engage with the right people on environmental conservation."