SIR, Last Friday (February 16), in the Scottish Government daily email, it was mentioned that they were spending £180,000 to discover why people are deserting Scotland’s rural areas – a subject that has been rumbling on for some time, not just in the Highlands, but here in Dumfries and Galloway too.

It seems incredible to a simple shepherd like me that they can’t see the answer which is staring them in the face. A very good place to start would be a look at the history books – understand what brought people to live in these rural areas in the first place and, of course, the answer is farming, especially when wool was the kingpin of the British economy before we started importing cotton from America.

It is quite clear that if people are not able to earn a living from what they are doing then they will turn to something else which nine times out of 10 means leaving their homes for, forgive the pun, ‘pastures new’.

Politicians have for years been banging the drum saying we should be more efficient, and a lot of us have rallied to the cause of producing food at inflation-beating prices to the extent that we produce food cheaper than anywhere else in Europe.

When food production subsidies were introduced the British population was still using ration books – they didn’t go until July 1954.

The idea of the subsidy was to increase food production for a hungry nation, but over time brought the price of food down in terms of a percentage of the working wage, hence making the politicians aim of winning elections easier to achieve.

It’s no coincidence that in recent history, if the seat of power is going to change at a General Election, the main factor is likely to be inflation and instability in the financial markets.

As I say, farmers have rallied to the cause to become more efficient and more productive where possible.

However, in areas of natural constraint, through no fault of their own, and especially for hill farmers living a long way from the big city, these efficiencies have not kept pace with inflation, especially where they are deterred from keeping higher numbers of stock, either for environmental reasons or because the land isn’t able to carry more.

Failure to recognise these difficulties, by this Scottish Government in particular but also their predecessors, has seen a reduction in funding to the point that farming is no longer economically viable in these areas and so they are leaving in there droves.

Rural depopulation would be even worse if it wasn’t for retired couples looking for a peaceful, idyllic lifestyle away from the rat race they have endured for the last 40 plus years.

I would however, make the point that these people are not contributing to the overarching economy of rural Scotland, and neither should they, having already done their bit for society.

But, as a friend once said, the saddest sight she witnessed all too often was one lonely figure standing on the quayside beside a suitcase waiting for a ferry to take them back to the big city and a life that was familiar to them.

At an NFUS event I attended recently, a government official stated the rural pull on the Scottish Government was around £500m.

Now that may sound a lot of money, and it is, but it is the same figure that was last year promised to Tesla to build just one battery factory in Cornwall – £500m or less than 1% of the total Scottish budget, spread over approximately 770,000ha, has to be seen as a good investment when you consider the return to the population as a whole.

However, this sum needs to see a recognisable increase in areas of natural constraint if we are to stop the ‘Highland Clearances’.

Highland as in land that is considered in the current payment system coming to an end, as Region 2 land.

And so it is £180,000 to find the answer to a conundrum, or put it another way, the annual PAYE of around 22 or 23 average wage earners, when the answer is staring them in the face.

It is unbelievable. Or is it? When the glaringly obvious is staring you in the face it seems no-one in government can see the wood for the trees they so keenly encourage us to plant.

Support the industries that are the lifeblood of rural areas and people will want to stay – stay and contribute to the rural economy and the overall good of Scotland.

I would now urge the farm lobbying organisations who we pay to care for our interests to latch onto this idea and push it home, right to the heart of the Scottish Government.

Hamish Waugh, Effgill, Dumfries and Galloway