Amid the gloom of lockdowns (of which more later) the light at the end of the Covid tunnel is, of course, the roll out of vaccinations against the Coronavirus. Yesterday the Prime Minister said: “It is our plan that everyone should have a vaccination available within a radius of 10 miles”. He was presumably referring to England, but the challenge of making the vaccine accessible to rural communities is, if anything, greater in Scotland and Wales.
Access to healthcare in rural areas is inextricably linked to transport and for those in Covid-vulnerable age groups who are currently being offered the vaccine, and who will be in the coming weeks, there can be no assumption about journeys of even under 10 miles. In many rural communities, families, friends and neighbours will ensure that the elderly and vulnerable can access vaccinations, but transport must continue to be part of the planning process as governments, the NHS and the army tackle the logistics of this huge vaccination programme.
Meanwhile, following Wednesday's debate in Parliament and further discussions with government, we are able to clarify which activities can be considered 'exercise' under the Covid regulations in England. Riding, fishing and shooting can all be considered exercise, but you should only travel locally to carry out these activities once a day, and you can only take part in these activities with people in your household or bubble, or with one person from another household.
The rules for Wales differ in that all exercise must start and end at home, which means you should not drive to take part in any exercise, although travel to care for horses is allowed. In Wales you must not meet with anyone outside your household to exercise.
In Scotland you can meet one other person to exercise and travel within your local authority area, or within five miles of your local authority area boundary. I would urge anyone considering taking part in any of these activities or wildlife management operations to read our full advice for all nations which is available from our Covid hub.
I know I am far from alone in mourning the loss of so much that makes our winters special. A January without hounds or pheasants, without friends and the excuse to travel to the remote corners of our island is a sad prospect. I also know, however, that the long winter ahead will only make us more determined to secure all that is so special for the future.
As with so much in life, you only fully understand how important things are when you cannot have them. If nothing else, the next few months will give us an understanding of the real value of those things we cannot do, and the opportunity to ensure they can continue for the foreseeable future.