IT IS estimated that an air ambulance takes off somewhere in the UK every 10 minutes.

Every year, the UK-wide Air Ambulance Week (September 7 to 13) turns the spotlight on the amazing work of the country's 21 air ambulance charities that operate 39 life-saving helicopters, including Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) with its helicopters Helimed 76 based at Perth and Helimed 79 based at Aberdeen.

But this year more than most, these charities need your support, as The Scottish Farmer found out when it interviewed one of SCAA’s airborne emergency teams ...

IN NATURE, a symbiotic relationship is defined as a biological interaction between two different organisms, where both benefit from their mutual dealings. Think of those wee birds that nip into crocodiles' mouths to pick bits of meat out from between their teeth, or the Clown Fish that patrol sea anemones immune to their stings.

While there are many interdependencies at work in Scotland's rural communities and businesses, some more equally balanced than others, there are few relationships that approach true symbiosis as much as that which exists between farmers and Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance.

SCAA is an integral part of Scotland’s frontline emergency response network, responding to trauma incidents and medical emergencies across an area of more than 30,000 square miles.

The Scottish Farmer:

As every reader of The Scottish Farmer already knows fine well, 80% of our country is classified as agricultural land, and the vast bulk of that is upland, if not downright mountainous. Less favoured by nature often means less favoured by the roads network, and the upshot is that many farmers and farming community folk do not live and work within a short road ambulance ride from their nearest Accident and Emergency unit – so in the event of a life-threatening injury, a swift extraction by helicopter may be their best chance of continued life.

To that end, SCAA can be airborne within five minutes of receiving an emergency call and can reach 90% of Scotland’s population within 25 minutes.

Equally, the single biggest source of call-outs for SCAA is to road traffic accidents on that far-flung Scottish road network. Arriving at the scene of such a crash, the pilot's priority is for a safe place to land within lifting distance of the injured, which will more often than not see the helicopter set down on the friendly terrain of a roadside field.

So whether SCAA is saving them, or temporarily parking on their land, many farmers have a firm bond with its dedicated band of pilots and paramedics, and it is no surprise that the service is often included in the beneficiaries of rural fund-raising events. Because, make no mistake, SCAA is a charity, funded by the people of Scotland, primarily through donations, fundraising events and a life-saving lottery.

SCAA, flying from Perth and Aberdeen, works in tandem with the government-funded Scottish Ambulance Service air ambulances operating out of Inverness and Glasgow, adding vital pieces to the jigsaw of national coverage. (In England, it is worth noting, all the air ambulances are charity funded, with no government contribution).

SCAA currently operates two helicopters, both Eurocopter 135-T2is, and one rapid response vehicle, and the blunt message is that it takes £4million a year to keep those machines, and the emergency workers they carry, on call.

Despite the short lull in rural activity at the peak of lockdown, when The Scottish Farmer spoke with SCAA pilot captain Russell Myles and lead paramedic John Pritchard, they reported that call-outs to help the general public were back to their busy normal, while the farming community’s need had never really diminished, as field and livestock work had carried on unhindered by the pandemic’s restrictions.

“Around 60% of our work will bring us into contact with farmers and gamekeepers,” estimated Paramedic Pritchard. “We have an exemption that allows us to land pretty much anywhere, and a lot of the time we’ll have to land in fields adjacent to roads, so we have to be aware of the rural calendar – and have consideration for calving and lambing season in particular."

The Scottish Farmer:

Captain Myles added: "If there are livestock, we can approach in such a way as to nudge them away clear from where we are landing, rather than driving them between the helicopter and the fence, or any natural barriers."

“Even if we have to land in crops, we will try to set down on the tram lines, to minimise the damage," said John. "But farmers, without fail, are always understanding, and go out of their way to be helpful. Often, they will help us get a casualty across to the helicopter with their own vehicles.”

"We've even arrived at a site to see that the farmer has moved the feed troughs to make an 'H' for us to land next to," recalled Russell.

When they are called out specifically to help farming families, SCAA team report that the old health and safety regulars of rolled All Terrain Vehicles, falls from sheds, encounters with aggressive livestock, and accidents with uncovered machinery are injury statistics very much backed up by reality.

“It is a high risk, high pressure industry, “said John. “You’ve got one farmer doing five jobs, and often we will find that a call-out has its root cause in plain old fatigue, with mistakes made by people who are dog-tired.

“Saying that, the farmer spirit of just getting the job done can get them into trouble. We had a call out to a farmer in the islands who had been trying to fix a wind turbine using his tractor's bucket as a platform.

“What we do find with farmers is how absolutely stoical they are,” noted John. “They can have lost a finger, and they’ll tell us to wait because they need to make sure that the cattle are all fed.”

The Scottish Farmer:

On other occasions, it isn't the seriousness of the injury, but the remoteness of the location, that makes the helicopter the best choice of transport to hospital. The chaps are proud to say that there have been a few rural babies born after their mums were rushed to a maternity unit by air.

Asked what farmers could do to make their job easier, John and Russell were in agreement that everyone working in the outdoors should make a habit of carrying a a piece of dayglo material to make them stand out against rough ground.

"Its tradition, I suppose, but a lot of rural workers are out there in colours that are more or less camouflage," said Russell. "There have been times when we have answered a call out, and have really struggled to find anyone, which isn't ideal when you are up against the clock of a serious injury.

"There are A5 cards of dayglo orange that we'd encourage people to keep with them when they are out and about – one of those in plain sight will really stand out to us seen from the air."

The 'what3words' location system is also a favourite, for its ability to home in to a square metre location on otherwise featureless ground.

The Scottish Farmer:

Once on the ground, the helicopter is a surprisingly vulnerable bit of kit. Like most aircraft, it is made of the lightest aluminium, and is no match for impacts with anything more solid, which can be an issue in livestock fields, where curious youngstock often interpret the arrival of a machine as a dinner bell.

"It's not a surprise to look up from dealing with a call-out to find that we've been surrounded by cows licking the 'copter's paintwork," said Russell. "They even pulled open an emergency hatch once," he laughed.

But aside from hungry heifers, the biggest threat to SCAA right now is in its funding.

Over a normal year, the charity would usually benefit from a 'plethora' of fundraisers and collections, closely tied in with the calendar of rural and farming events. But with that calendar in tatters for 2020, that fundraising has, in Russell's words 'taken a hammering'.

"But farmers and rural communities depend upon us, and we need £4million a year to run the service, so we are as grateful as ever for the support of the public and voluntary organisations that help us raise that money and keep us in the air."

To find out more about Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance, including donating or volunteering, call 0300 123 111, email, visit its facebook page @ScotlandsCharityAirAmbulance or its website at