Encouraging new blood to work in rural areas has been increasingly difficult, but some initiatives are hoping to address this by making jobs with real meaning.

In one such, Blair Castle and Atholl Estates’ ranger, Julia Duncan, has been enlisted to help inspire a new generation to join the profession and help protect Scotland’s countryside.

Taking part in several activities organised by Lantra, which helps to drive skills development in the rural economy, Julia will highlight both her career path to Blair Castle and the diversity of her role on the 145,000-acre estate.

The aim is to encourage more young people to become countryside rangers at a time when the natural environment, sustainability and our interaction with wildlife is becoming increasing vital.

Over recent years, 35% of ranger jobs have been lost, yet with a huge upturn in Scots holidaying at home, sustainable land management a priority and the increasing focus on eco-tourism, Lantra had recognised that a critical element was a need for new role models.

It believed that people like Julia – who are passionate about protecting the environment and wildlife – could be key to the industry’s future. And making working in the countryside a 'good' place to work.

Kevin Patrick, of Lantra, said: “The need to invest in how we engage people and help them to understand and enjoy the countryside has been highlighted over the past year and the role of the countryside ranger is now being acknowledged as vital to the sustainable development and management of Scotland’s rural estates, country parks, historic and more natural landscapes.

"To bring more people into the profession, we need role models who can bring diverse skills and fresh ideas to traditional roles and who can highlight how rewarding a career as a ranger actually is.

"That includes young people, who are the future guardians of Scotland’s natural environment, and who have also been hit badly in employment terms by the pandemic. They need opportunities - and we need them,” he said.

Julia has been a countryside ranger for eight years, the past three with Blair Castle and Atholl Estates in picturesque Highland Perthshire. Her role includes visitor management, delivering outdoor activities, maintaining public access, trails and pathways and biological surveys and monitoring. It's a real mixture of work which has constant interest for her.

Over the past year, her responsibilities had expanded to meet the demands of more people wanting to understand and learn about the natural environment around them. This ranged from working with schools through to guided walks across the estate and, more recently, she has been involved in developing the new Beaver Tour.

Acknowledging that Perthshire is one of her favourite parts of Scotland, Julia wants to help people understand more about the area and believes that by demonstrating how to care for the environment, others will be encouraged to do so.

She told The Scottish Farmer: “We’ve certainly seen and appreciated the sudden increase in interest from the public in the countryside and the wildlife around us. Our estate is beautiful, and I think my main role as a ranger is to speak to people about how they can build a connection with nature, not just now, but also for the future.

"The sustainability of the natural environment and the protection of wildlife is everyone’s concern, we all have a role to play. Bizarrely, the pandemic is allowing us to engage more as interest in the countryside grows.

"But we need countryside rangers to guide and educate those growing numbers of visitors, ensuring the protection of the fantastic natural resources around us,” she added.

“Highland Perthshire is one of my favourite parts of Scotland and I feel privileged to live and work on the Atholl Estates. I absolutely love my job and there’s nothing else I would rather be doing.”

On a wider level, the Scottish Government is currently reviewing the national strategy for countryside rangers in Scotland, while VisitScotland’s visitor management strategy sets the context for more rangers.

With Julia leading the way and with more people moving to the countryside because the difficulties of Covid-19 had shown them that they could work from home, hopefully this should make the 'great outdoors' a more attractive place for people to both live and work.