A pioneering scheme to help youngsters connect with the natural environment could be rolled out throughout Scotland after a pilot weekend was hailed a success.
The Outdoor Experience Camps, a collaboration of SYHA Hostelling Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), saw dozens of young people enjoy a weekend discovering wildlife and nature at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
The scheme has been developed to allow young people to benefit from a greater connection with Scotland's nature.
Based at the beautiful Loch Lomond Youth Hostel, the weekend saw young people aged 12-21 years learn how to identify wildlife and develop outdoor skills such as navigation and bushcraft.
A group of over 50 young people from across Scotland spent time at the acclaimed National Park learning to identify nature and wildlife including trees in Balloch Park and sea life at the Loch Lomond Aquarium
Participants learned outdoor crafts and skills including survival and emergency skills.
The young people were also introduced to new outdoor activities including kayaking, trekking and orienteering.
Each participant kept a camp diary, detailing their reactions to experiences and how it made them feel.
By staying together in the youth hostel, youngsters experienced teamwork and learned leadership and co-operative skills.
The participants also wrote a six month plan of further nature activities they plan to carry out, and received advice on how they can do this in their local area.
The scheme has the aim of delivering long term benefits, by teaching youngsters how to build ways to enjoy nature into their daily lives.
The aim is to stimulate an interest in learning about nature, particularly among children who would not normally otherwise have the opportunity to spend time in the countryside.
SYHA Hostelling Scotland and SNH both support the research that has found experience of nature and wildlife can dramatically reduce stress and improve people’s sense of wellbeing and self-esteem.
Fiona Rattray, Fundraising and Development Manager for SYHA Hostelling Scotland, said: “We are delighted with the initial success of the Outdoor Experience Camps.
“Youth and environmental education are fundamental to our charity's founding ethos, and this scheme aims to deliver in both areas by allowing young people the opportunity to benefit from Scotland's wonderful natural landscape.
“With hostels in some of Scotland's most untouched natural locations, SYHA Hostelling Scotland has long attracted those keen to explore wild Scotland.
“This new scheme is a welcome extension of our youth development projects, including the Give us a Break scheme and we are grateful to Scottish Natural Heritage for their support which has enabled these camps to take place.”
“The Outdoor Experience Camp programme is about introducing young people to the freedom of the great outdoors, but specifically draws on the role nature can play in developing a better social and emotional future for Scottish young people.
“The positive feedback we have had from this initial weekend has cemented our belief that we can really help young people benefit from outdoor life, and as we monitor developments over the coming months, we hope to develop plans to offer this scheme to many more teenagers across the country.”
Ashleigh Tooth, Recreation and Access Officer with SNH said: “We’re really keen to inspire teenagers to get outdoors so we were pleased to help fund this pilot camp in the lovely setting of the national park.
“Many young people don’t have the opportunity to experience nature, particularly with the distractions of our increasingly technological world. We hope that the weekend will help these teenagers get in touch with nature, teaching them all sorts of life skills, helping them feel more confident and carefree and reducing stress. But above all we hope it sows the seeds for a lifelong love of and respect for nature.”
SYHA Hostelling Scotland is a registered charity dedicated to providing low cost, quality accommodation across Scotland. The charity is committed to promoting the social, environmental and educational benefits of hostelling to all, from families to retired people, couples to groups of friends.
Visit www.hostellingscotland.com for more information about the Hostel Network. Book on line or call the Reservations Team on 0845 293 73 73.