It is not just the diversity of sport on offer that gives Scotland its hallowed reputation among visiting sportsmen and women ? the stunning scenery, wide open spaces and spectacular wildlife are arguably the country's greatest assets. Indeed Stephen Whitehorne's photographic journal illustrates the dramatic beauty that draws millions of visitors to the country each year. And as Alison Queenborough discovered on her recent road trip, Scotland's spot in the Lonely Planet Guide's top three destinations to visit in 2014 is wholly deserved. Outstanding hotels, lodges and restaurants, great food and a warm welcome are all part of the allure.
Add to this world-class fishing, shooting and stalking, and it is easy to see why, once again, we?ve got a lot to celebrate in this issue of?The Scottish Sporting Gazette.
Indeed we?ve said it before and we?ll say it again ? the importance of country sports to Scotland's economy can not be overstated. According to the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group, who celebrate their 10th anniversary this year, it is estimated that fieldsports generate in excess of ?340 million annually. And culturally too, many rural communities in Scotland are intrinsically linked to the countryside, and not always through traditional means. Sculptor Sam MacDonald's Hebridean upbringing, for instance, paved the way for a thriving career as an international artist.
A big year lies ahead for Scotland. In July, the Commonwealth Games are coming to Glasgow and then in September, Gleneagles will host the Ryder Cup. But also in September, the Scottish public will be asked to decide whether Scotland should remain in the UK or become an independent nation. Whatever the outcome, many feel that Alex Salmond's SNP government spells bad news for the countryside and country sports.
As Michael Wigan argues, salmon rivers in the west have been blighted by Salmond's aquaculture policies as sea-lice infestations and escapee fish of Norwegian origin continue to compromise the precious wild stocks. Andrew Graham-Stewart too, in his salmon season round-up, calls for action over the continued netting of wild stocks on the east coast. More needs to be done. And it's not just salmon ? the capercaillie is facing imminent extinction unless those tasked with legislating for the countryside get real and face up to the facts.
So, aside from the prospect of this year's great sporting events in Glasgow and at Gleneagles, 2014 looks set to be a definitive year for the Scottish countryside and the sporting opportunities it yields. As always, this, the 33rd issue of The Scottish Sporting Gazette, showcases and celebrates all that is good about Scotland's rural landscape. We certainly hope that we will still have so much to celebrate in 2015.