'STOP PLAYING politics with the countryside' was the message delivered by the Scottish Countryside Alliance in their manifesto launch ahead of the Holyrood elections.

Rural crime; digital connectivity; the rural economy and the importance of country sports, are to the fore of their proposals as the organisation calls on the next Scottish Government to 'protect, connect, grow and enrich' rural Scotland.

The SCA has criticised the efforts made by political parties to reduce the number of dogs that lawfully hunt to two, and to ban hunting as a form of pest control completely. The organisation say that this is despite a Scottish Government review by Lord Bonomy concluding 'the use of packs of hounds to flush out foxes to be shot remains a significant pest control measure'.

The pro-hunting organisation has also condemned promises to pursue shooting and deer management legislation as a 'miss-step' which they believe could cause considerable damage to environmental, as well as economic outcomes for Scotland.

SCA spokesman Ed Rowlandson urged that future rural policy be based on sound evidence and to be 'rural proofed'. He said: “Rural Scotland is an interwoven tapestry of cultural, economic, environmental and community issues. A threat to any one aspect could lead to the unravelling of the whole, which is why promoting and protecting Scotland’s rural communities will be important for the next Scottish Government, especially now we have left the European Union and as we recover from the devastation Covid-19 has caused.

“Rural policy must be based on sound evidence and research," he continued. "Too often political parties play politics with the countryside, not recognising the needs of those who live and work there, or the consequences that poor legislation creates.

“The next Scottish Government must recognise that the success of rural Scotland is dependent on each sector, community and business working together to deliver on Scotland’s environmental and economic ambitions,” he concluded.