A LIFELINE has been delivered to Scotland's country sports tourism sector in the form of a £1million package of support for those businesses which have been impacted by coronavirus.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Scottish Country Tourism Group have been lobbying the Scottish Government after it emerged that it intended to exclude country sports from key funding support for a second time.

The new fund – which was jointly developed by the Scottish Government, Visit Scotland, BASC and the SCSTG – aims to assist the hardest hit businesses in the country sports tourism sector and will open to applications from next week.

Eligible businesses include sporting agencies, land-based sporting businesses, sporting guides and fishing charter operators – all of which have experienced unprecedented hardship, disruption and financial loss as a result of the pandemic.

To ensure support reaches those in the greatest need, applicants are required to prove that 75% of their annual turnover originates from country sports tourism activity – a requirement that will likely exclude estates which tend to have numerous income streams.

Estates are expected to be made eligible for local authority administered funds in due course, with the SCSTG monitoring for any potential incidences of discrimination and bias.

BASC Scotland’s public affairs manager, Ross Ewing, hailed the announcement of the Scottish country sports tourism restart fund as a 'pivotal moment for the sector and the wider rural economy'.

“Businesses have endured significant hardships and little support since the pandemic began, and we are grateful to the Scottish Government and VisitScotland for making a dedicated fund available to the country sports tourism sector," he said. "The fund will play a crucial role in helping businesses to safeguard jobs and protect investment in rural areas.”

SCSTG chairman, Rory Kennedy, added that the fund is a 'vital lifeline' for businesses after what has been a 'painful year': "The fund will give the hardest hit businesses the means to survive. Various other rural sectors rely heavily on country sports tourism, so it is vital that its significant contribution is protected as far as possible."

It is estimated that the value of country sports tourism to the Scottish economy is £200m per year, with 8800 full-time equivalent jobs being supported by the sector.

A spokesperson for VisitScotland said: “Country sports is a significant contributor to the Scottish economy and is considered to be a distinct sector that is extremely valuable to local and rural communities."

The Scottish Conservative’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism, Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP, criticised the 'lethargic response' from SNP ministers to deliver support for the sector.

“Country sports play a vital role in the tourism sector, providing a significant number of jobs in parts of the country where there are often few alternatives sources of employment, and maintaining a flow of visitors during the quieter parts of the year when income for hospitality providers can be otherwise very low."