Monday, 19 August 2019

Moorland Management Advisory Visit by Professor Rob Marrs

Following our annual charity auction in May, August's blog gives an insight into Professor Rob Marrs' moorland management advisory to Knocklearn Farm.

On Friday 19th July, Professor Rob Marrs, President of the Heather Trust, visited Knocklearn Farm, near Corsock in Dumfriesshire to discuss its management with the owner Mr Andrew McConnel. 

The visit was donated as a Lot to the Heather Trust's annual Country Market and Sporting Sale. 

It was a wet day but spirits were high because the areas of rough grazing on the farm were deemed to be well managed as a low-input/low output operation.  

There was some deer shooting and grazing for Belted Galloways - apt for a Galloway farm. 

Rob and Andrew traversed more or less the entire farm, either on foot or by ATV bike, and Rob was amazed at the high quality of the vegetation, mostly wet grassland. The species diversity and indeed the herbage biomass was high and appeared to be hitting conservation targets. 

All in all, a great day out. Only downside was that the weather was too bad for photos.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

The British Game Alliance offers a chance for shoots to demonstrate their best practice in moorland and wildlife management

With the ever-increasing scrutiny of traditional forms of moorland management, many feel the solution lies with the sector itself to get on the front foot in terms of adopting, demonstrating and promoting good practice if it is to avoid further regulation.  In our June blog, the Heather Trust hears from the British Game Alliance about their game industry accreditation scheme that is offering shoots an opportunity to demonstrate their management credentials and develop higher value markets for their product.

The BGA offers a chance for shoots to demonstrate their best practice in moorland and wildlife management

Since its launch just over a year ago the British Game Alliance (BGA) has seen significant success, having signed up over 500 shoots to its assurance scheme and developed new markets for game both overseas and at home. 

British Game Alliance Chairman, Ivan Shenkman, said, “This has been an astonishing inaugural year for the British Game Alliance. The BGA has achieved far more than the founding members believed was possible in the early stages. We are well on the way to achieving many of our initial objectives and planning many exciting developments for the future.”

The success of the BGA’s year is thanks, in no small part, to the support the organisation has received from the wider shooting community, including other organisations such as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and BASC and individuals like the BGA Ambassadors.

Ensuring best practice
The BGA was formed with the aim of increasing the demand for and the value of British game, but the organisation’s Assurance Scheme and Shoot Standards offer an unrivalled opportunity to demonstrate the beneficial impacts of the game industry from an environmental perspective. In addition to food handling and animal welfare guidelines, the shoot standards include points to ensure that BGA accredited shoots adhere to best practice when it comes to conservation and the impact on the wider environment.

There are specific measures requiring BGA accredited shoots to abide by The Blanket Bog Land Management Guidance and the Heather and Grass Burning / Muirburn Codes, as well as revoking membership of those successfully prosecuted or cautioned for wildlife crimes from membership of the organisation. There are also more general points requiring that shoots “ensure the land is appropriately managed to continually benefit wildlife and its environment” and that stocking densities of released birds have no negative impact on the biodiversity of the surrounding environment.

An important part of getting the message about the positive benefits of game shooting out into the wider world is being able to demonstrate the environmental and conservation credentials of these shoots – even those who are currently doing a good job. 

Since being launched, the Assurance Scheme by the BGA has audited 33% of the 500 + registered shoots and aims to increase that to 50% for the coming 2019/20 season. Regular auditing is essential to give credibility to the assurance scheme and its member shoots and to help build confidence among consumers of game and the wider public that best practice is being followed. The BGA has, with the help of GWCT and Moorland Association, trained 8 auditors to complete shoot assessments around the UK. 

The BGA encourage registered shoots to embrace the audit process, which need not be feared. It is a process to help each shoot understand what abiding to “best practice” means and to make any changes, if necessary, with the help from the auditor. As part of our registration agreement a shoot agrees to adhere to the BGA Assurance scheme standards, so the assessment is a means of verifying this. Many moorland managers and gamekeepers are rightly proud of the work they do to conserve and manage these important habitats and the BGA’s scheme gives them the chance to demonstrate it in a verifiable way.

The BGA encourages shoots of all sizes to join its initiative to implement a credible self-regulation across the shooting industry, ensuring we abide by “best practice” and offering us political security for a sustainable future. 

To read the full end of season summary for 2018/19, you can download it here:

Monday, 20 May 2019

In search of sustainability

In our latest blog the Trust’s Director, Anne Gray, reflects on a year in post and offers some thoughts on the Trust’s unique role and the reasons why it needs continued support. 

I started as Director of The Heather Trust in March last year.  It’s been a year to meet people, listen, understand, and get to grips with the opportunities and challenges the Trust faces in the current political, policy and financial environment.  

I’ve traveled to Exmoor, Powys, the Peak District twice, Northumberland several times and across Scotland, as well as quarterly trips to Defra in London and to corresponding upland and moorlands fora in Scotland.  This has been to provide project management, training, advice and representation work to further the interests of good moorland management.  Some weeks I’ve barely seen home, whilst others it has been head down at my computer to plough through consultations, correspondence and the business of keeping the Trust running.  All of this I have to say has only been possible with the support of the small, but dedicated, Heather Trust team. 

In relation to Britain’s moorlands, The Heather Trust occupies the space between environment, rural economy and society and seeks to reconcile the various interests involved in moorland management at a time when many moorland management practices are being challenged.  As such, our vision is for sustainable, resilient moorlands for the benefit of everyone.

The Trust’s watch words might be “moderation in all things”.  It was formed because its founders understood that fragile moorland and upland environments could not sustain intensive production, whether that be grouse, sheep or anything else – there needs to be balance.  I’m told in the early days the discussion was pretty much grouse and sheep, so perhaps ‘anything else’ didn’t get a look in.  However, the principle is even more relevant today, when we have so many more calls on our moorland and upland areas.

Lapwing by Garry MacLennan, Invermark

If you read the press or follow social media however, it appears there is precious little moderation around.  In these media, the debate about moorlands and how they are managed has probably never been more fraught.  In the last year I’ve watched how polarised debates about wildfire management, predator control, trees and rewilding, mountain hare numbers, sport shooting and even farming have become.  Not that these topics were without a range of viewpoints before last year, but everything seems to be more entrenched and embittered.   

It used to be that science and evidence could be relied on to get everyone back to a more objective place, but selective pieces of research are now hurled around like brickbats in games of one-upmanship that are not constructive.  This is nowhere more evident than in the debate about managed burning on blanket bog where some science on specific issues such as carbon storage, vegetation response or water quality exists, but none yet which draws the relevant threads together to give the complete picture. 

This could all be very depressing and make a moderate wish to simply pack-up and go home.  However, I don’t think these media fairly represented who most of us are and, if we are to end the impasse and move forward with these issues – and we surely need to, then it will require people and organisations, such as The Heather Trust, that can bridge the chasm to make it happen.

What is truly at the heart of these issues is how society deals with environmental concerns such as climate change, water management and biodiversity losses.  In very recent weeks, with demonstrable civil protest supported by a plethora of worrying environmental science, there can be little doubt that these issues increasingly will be the focus of government’s policy and legislation programme. 

Land management, whether it be farming, game, forestry, water supply or, indeed renewables is increasingly finding the spotlight shone on it.  On the one hand, I know why this is.  Land and how it is managed matters when it comes to solving environmental problems.  It is about the only sector that can sequester and store carbon, reverse biodiversity losses and it is likely the most cost-effective way to manage water quality and flood risk.  On the other hand, that we have not in the past always used land in ways that will achieve this is the collective responsibility of society, and not exclusively of those who have been supported and encouraged to grow more, feed the nation and support the rural economy.  While I understand completely the frustrations of those, especially the young, who protest and call for change, what I find much less helpful is the criticism and blame culture that seems to be developing alongside the protests.  It is time to solve these less than straightforward issues together, and we’ll not do it while pointing fingers.

Open Hill Highland Cattle

One thing that the Heather Trust has long advocated and which I am 100% behind is the idea that we need to take the best of what we already know about managing moorlands, gleaned from both practitioners and science and evolve it.  Too often, public policy has caused management which is not flexible enough for the local context and which flip flops from one extreme to another.  Livestock headage payments leading to overstocking and over-grazing in some places and their universal removal leading to under-grazing and associated issues in other places is one example.  There are plenty of others and unfortunately it is something that is still happening, and badly needs to change.

The Heather Trust is a charity, we rely on membership, donations and on payment for work we do to facilitate discussion, reconciliation and change.  We are small and we need to grow to be truly effective.  If you believe that the way forward for moorlands across Britain lies in resolving the tensions between environment and economy, then we need to hear from you.  We need members, but we also need ambassadors for, and who can demonstrate, sustainable moorland management.  If this is you, then get in touch.

We are always keen to work with other organisations on collaborative projects, and again if this is you, get it touch.

I’m sure my second year at The Heather Trust will be no less busy and challenging than my first has been, but I remain committed to the ideal of a balanced approach and resolving tensions, and I hope you can support me in that.

Anne Gray