Wednesday, 15 March 2017

England: Heather Burning


An article in the Shooting Times reports that there is to be a total ban on burning in the Central Pennines, but this is not the case.  See what the Moorland Association has said about this.

The Trust is working with many other organisations to make sure that such a ban is not put in place.  We argue that, while bad burning practices can cause damage, the use of appropriate burning techniques in the right place at the right time is an essential management tool for large areas of the uplands.  We want to see burning carried out in a way that supports the balanced management of the uplands, and the facilities that they provide, including ecosystem services and economic activity.

Through the Uplands Management Group, which provides input to Defra's Upland Stakeholder Forum, we have been supporting the production of guidance about the importance of sphagnum moss for peatland, and carbon capture and storage.  This guidance supports the use of fire as one of the management tools in the uplands.  The Group will publish further guidance soon   that outlines the appropriate management techniques for sphagnum.

In Scotland, I am leading the review of the Muirburn Code for the Scottish Government,and this serves to indicate the government's support for muirburn that is carried out using appropriate techniques.

In my view, heather burning is an essential part of upland management that must continue to be available, but like any powerful tool, burning must be used intelligently with an awareness of the impact it can have on sensitive features. 

Scotland: Peatland ACTION re-launch


The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, has re-launched the Peatland ACTION project.

The Peatland ACTION fund received a further £8 million from the Scottish Government, in January. The investment allows the Peatland Action Fund, which is administered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), to continue working with its partners and restore a further 8,000 hectares of this precious peatland habitat in Scotland, during 2017/18.

The fund is open for applications on 1st April, but the project team would like to hear about proposed projects now. Updated application requirements and guidance are available from the project's webpages.

In this phase of the project, there is an emphasis on extending the geographical reach to the Western Isles, and for further contractor training. More information will be become available in due course through updates on the project's webpages and posts on social media accounts: @SNH_Tweets and @ScottishNaturalHeritage

The Scottish Government has issued a press release.

A BBC News article includes a video clip with the voice-over provided by Andrew McBride, the Peatland ACTION Project Manager.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Farmers are given free reign to preserve land under new scheme


See the article in the Yorkshire Post for details of the 'outcomes approach' being applied to hay meadows in Wensleydale.  I like the sound of this approach, and I wonder if this might be the way of the future of agri-environment schemes in the post-brexit world.

I am a believer of giving those who manage the land responsibility for delivering an agreed outcome in a way that suits their capabilities, the land and their enthusiasm.  I think we have proved rather too successfully the limitation of a top-down, prescriptive approach to achieving targets.  The garden is not all roses and there will still be a requirement for a regulatory stick to beat those who do not get the message or who try to cut corners, but for once the needs of the majority should be put first.

Well done all involved in setting up this scheme.  I believe that this type of bold approach will achieve the long-term benefits that are required.  There will be some bumps in the road, and I hope that these will not deflect everyone from the common purpose.


Tick and Lyme disease awareness events for South Uist


It is good to see that someone is taking sheep ticks and Lyme disease seriously. See the BBC news report for details of what is happening in the Western Isles.  I think it is something that the rest of us are in denial about.  Lyme disease is nasty, and if you have any doubts about this, talk to someone who has had it.

Are we doing enough to warn people about the threat?  I do not think so.  I have a mental image of happy hikers skipping off on a walk through deep bracken wearing shorts and a T shirt.  There are ticks salivating on the fronds at the prospect.

We have the ability to reduce tick numbers by treating the stock they depend on for a blood meal.  It is not difficult, but it can be expensive and to take place where there is no grouse benefit, will require incentive.  What price human illness, suffering and treatment?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Muirburn Code Review


This Muirburn Code Review has been the focus of the Trust's activity in the last 10 days.  We have run two workshops and have one more to do near Huntly, on Tuesday. After this we will reflect on the feedback we have received and will be presenting this at a final workshop on 14th March at Battleby, SNH's conference centre near Perth.

This review started several years ago with a critique of the existing Code and I have been running the review process since January, last year.  Activity is reaching a crescendo, as the aim is to get the text agreed by the end of March so that the Code can be launched over the Summer, perhaps with some promotion activity.  The draft Code is available on its own website (www.muirburncode.org.uk) and this will be 'beautified' when the text has been finalised to include graphics, photographs and perhaps some videos.

In my view, the publication of the Code will mark the start of a process to bring muirburn up to date with the latest knowledge of fire behaviour, improved fire management techniques, coordinating fire science research and possibly the introduction of more formal training and accreditation for practitioners.  This won't take long!

Keep up to date by following the Muirburn Code Review Blog.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum

I attended the latest meeting of this Forum in London, on Thursday, last week. The Trust is a founder member of this Forum, which was set up by Defra in 2012; it aims to bring together all the interests with a stake in the English uplands.

Meeting Outline
I provided an update on the Trust's work with the Uplands Management Group (T&F Groups working); Bracken Control (Asulam available in 2017); and the England & Wales Wildfire Forum (Wildfire Risk Assessment nearly ready to publish, Wildfire conference being proposed in Dorset - November 2017).

We then covered the development of the 25-year plans for the Environment and Food, Farming & Fishing, which is a major policy undertaking for Defra, especially so, since the Brexit vote.  We also discussed the development of the Natural Capital Approach that is a new kid on the block.  The feeling of the meeting was that while Natural Capital was an interesting concept, it will not raise interest from the owners and managers of land until there is some incentive for completing a Natural Capital Plan.  Until then, this is an interesting topic for the policy and research communities that has little practical application.

The exception to the lack of application is the National Trust's initiative outlined in the Green Alliance's report New Markets for Land and Nature, which introduces a proposed Natural Infrastructure Scheme.  This was outlined during the meeting and while it is clearly fraught with difficulty, the National Trust is to be applauded for taking the plunge and investing time and effort in this.  It might provide a model to develop further.

Forum Governance
I have my reservations about this Forum, as I think it has lost its way, recently.  I hope that Defra will provide the time and energy that it deserves and needs to get it back on track.  We need a place where people can come together to discuss views and ideas and help Defra, and the other governement agencies, to develop policy that will be relevant to the stakeholders that members of the Forum represent.

To take full advantage of the meetings they should be an opportunity for discussion to draw on the knowledge and experience of the members of the Forum.  They should not just be a vehicle to present the government's solutions that have already been decided.

The Forum should provide an opportunity to engage with stakeholder views.  After all, until stakeholders are encouraged, coerced or paid to do something different, nothing will happen and all policy initiatives are a waste of effort. Stakeholders are the delivery mechanism and need to be treated with intelligence and respect!

Preparing for the laser launch at Auchnerran

GWCT is setting up a Laser Fence Project at the Game and Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm, Auchnerran. The laser system is very effective in dispersing bird species, however little or no research has been carried out on the effects these lasers will have on mammal species movements and behaviour.

There is more information on the GWCT blog.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Wildfire in Chile - it could not happen here, or could it?


During 2017, I will be continuing to work with the members of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum and the Scottish Wildfire Forum to raise the profile of the wildfire risk in the UK and to increase our level of preparedness.

See the BBC News report for some footage from Valparaiso, Chile of what a wildfire in a built up area looks like.  In the UK we tend to think that wildfire only happens in remote glens, dales, coombes or valleys, but the rural-urban interface is increasing and with drier, hotter summers in prospect as a result of climate change we need to plan better for wildfire.

This is an emerging theme for the UK wildfire conference that is being planned for November 2017.  The EWWF has coordinating role to play in this conference and more details will be published soon.

Could wildfire get into the centres of population in the UK?  Yes, it could, and perhaps it is a case of 'when' not 'if'.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Farmers' Letter to Santa

When sitting in front of the fire nursing a full stomach and hopefully a full glass, reflecting on an interesting 2016 and where the heck 2017 is likely to take us, I recommend a read of Alan Spedding's Farmer's Letter to Santa.  As he says, it is a long list, but I did not find any of the requests unreasonable.

The challenge might be how to prioritise the items on the list with Santa, as his sleigh is unlikely to be big enough to deliver all these requests in one go.

Another challenge will be to identify what Alan might have missed, especially in an uplands context.  In the festive spirit of peace and goodwill, a bit less conflict and some willingness to cooperate would be a good place to start.  Who knows, if this idea caught on, collectively we might be able to achieve a lot more for our uplands and that would really make this a good Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 16 December 2016

John Phillips


John Phillips died on 2nd December and I attended his funeral in Largs, yesterday. His obituary can be viewed on the Trust's website.

It was good to see many members of the Trust at the funeral and there were reminiscences of the type of incidents and activities that John will be remembered for, from throughout his 82 years.

It was John's vision that led to the formation of the Joseph Nickerson Heather Improvement Project that became The Heather Trust in 1994, and I took over, as Director, in May 2002.

John is described in many ways, but it is clear that his impact was significant, and he is remembered widely even now.  His passing marks the end of an era.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Bracken Control - Asulam available for 2017


On behalf of the Bracken Control Group, I submitted an application for an emergency authorisation that will allow asulam to be available for bracken control in 2017.

I am pleased to be able to report that the application has been approved and an emergency authorisation will be issued, next year.  The relevant dates for next year will be confirmed by the letter of authorisation but they are likely to be:

15-May-17
Effective date for the Notice of Authorisation issued by CRD.
Start of the Emergency Authorisation period of 120 days.
Storage, promotion, sales, and transfer authorised.
01-Jul-17
Application of Asulam can commence.

11-Sep-17
First expiry date: for sale & distribution of stocks.
Storage and use of stocks can continue.
31-Oct-17
Final expiry date: for disposal, storage and use of stocks.
It will be illegal to apply or store Asulam after this date.

The registration process to make asulam available under the latest EU regulations is continuing.  The possible timing of the approval has been updated and it is now possible that registration will be achieved by mid-2018.  This is a year earlier than had been thought and if this occurs, an application for an Emergency Authorisation will be needed for 2018, but there is a chance that it will not be required.  Here's hoping.

For more information see the Bracken Control website, which has recently been revised.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Poverty, not Wealth, is the Greater Threat to Wildlife


The publication of the latest State of Nature report (It's not too late to save nature in the UK, but we must act now to protect the future of our wildlife) prompted Matt Ridley to provide his own view.

It is perhaps unfashionable to think so, but maybe we are not doing so badly for our wildlife in the wealthier countries.

"The reason rich people are now able to live alongside wildlife in a way that poor people do not is partly because, once liberated from mere subsistence, they can afford to care."  

See the full story in Matt Ridley's Blog.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Keith McDougall 1934-2016

Photo: The Telegraph
It is with sadness I report that Keith McDougall has died at the age of 82.  An obituary was published in The Telegraph, last week, and this correctly records Keith's enthusiasm for all matters relating to conservation and upland farming.

Keith was a long standing member of The Heather Trust and one of the most active members.  He did not make the transition to the electronic age, but a steady flow of letters and correspondence cards served to keep me on my toes; the last one arrived here on the day that he died.  They were welcome as they came from someone with a great understanding of what the Trust is about and strives to achieve.  I suspect that the flow of correspondence was consistent across a range of organisations and this impressive level of input will be missed.

Friday, 2 September 2016

The National Trust and Thorneythwaite


I am a long term supporter of the National Trust, but I am also a passionate supporter of the role played by farmers in the management of the uplands and in their support for local communities.

I had some input into the recent revision of the National sheep Association's publication: The Complementary Role of sheep in Upland and Hill Areas which endorses the value that sheep and sheep farmers bring to remote rural areas.

The National Trust's activities in Cumbria cut across the principles that the NSA has espoused in this publication.  The background to this spat has been neatly summarised by Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance in his Editorial published this morning.  I fully support his views.  For convenience I repeat the text of the editorial below.


The National Trust and Thorneythwaite

The National Trust is a huge organisation which owns both very large numbers of historic and important buildings and swathes of wonderful countryside. Its long record of preserving the nation's heritage is extraordinary and across its vast estate it would be ludicrous to expect every decision it makes to please everyone.

The current outcry over the Trust's decision to purchase land at Thorneythwaite Farm in Borrowdale, Cumbria at an inflated price, and in doing so prevent local farmers from maintaining the farm as a traditional domestic agricultural holding, may however be more than just a disagreement. Underlying the concern stated so clearly by the local farming community and its supporters like Lord Bragg is a feeling that the Trust consciously, or more likely unconsciously, has adopted a part of the modern environmentalist creed which suggests that human input into the countryside is in nearly all ways negative and should be minimised.

Rather than celebrating the fact that nearly every landscape in our islands was created, and has been maintained, by generations of farmers this ideology believes that farmers are a problem, and that radically different management with less intervention is preferable. This would obviously not conserve the countryside in its current form but radically change it both by altering landscapes and, crucially, removing the role of the the indigenous population. People are not a fashionable concern amongst these environmentalists, but the countryside is not just a collection of fields, woods and fells viewed from a train window. It is every bit as much about the communities who live and work in that landscape.

The National Trust should, and largely does, understand this, but in Borrowdale it has made a mistake. I hope that it is big enough to admit that, to negotiate with the new owners of the farm buildings at Thorneythwaite to put the farm back together and, most importantly, to put the rural community back at the centre of its decision making processes. It has as much of a duty to conserve the community that created the Cumbrian landscape as it does to conserve that landscape itself.

Tim Bonner
Chief Executive
Follow me on Twitter @CA_TimB






Thursday, 25 August 2016

GWCT: 2016 Grouse Season Briefing


As the grouse season gets into full swing, GWCT has published a briefing that provides a useful summary of their 2016 grouse counts.  It also covers their leadership on a range of moorland and upland research and their input into other initiatives, that includes the projects I am running for Scotland's Moorland Forum.

Bracken as a Biofuel and Cutting Demonstrations


Sticking with the bracken theme established by the previous post, Oakland Biofuels Ltd is promoting the ability to produce bio-ethanol from bracken.  One of the challenges for using bracken as a crop is how to harvest it - bracken often grows on steep and inaccessible ground - but Oakland Biofuels think they have an answer.  The company is running a series of events to demonstrate some very capable, German equipment to help with the harvesting.


Thursday, 01 September 2016
Shapley Common, Dartmoor
Monday, 05 September 2016
Dinas Mawwdwy, Wales SY20 9LX
Wednesday, 07 September 2016
Annandale, Dumfries-shire
Friday, 09 September 2016
Blair Atholl, Perthshire

Scottish Land & Estates is promoting the events in Scotland and their website has more details about the Scottish events and it also includes more background information about the harvesting opportunities and links to videos showing the impressive capabilities of the harvesting equipment.  

If you would like to attend any of these events, please register your interest with Jeremy Oakley at Oakland Biofuels Ltd:

Tel: 01686 651370
Email:  oakley552@btinternet.com

Bracken for heating


Brackenburn is producing braquettes from harvested bracken, which burn hotter than oak and produce ash with a high potash content.   It's a nice idea to turn a problem into a crop that pays for the harvesting and produces something that heats your home.

Today's edition of Farming Today had a piece (03:25 - 07:45) about Brackenburn that included an interview with Barry Smith, and to learn more about this product, visit the website.


Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Petition: Protect Grouse Moors and Grouse shooting


Revised 24 August

Whatever your perceptions about grouse shooting, I urge you to consider the Countryside Alliance briefing 'Grouse Shooting - the Facts' that is promoted by this petition.  This briefing was prepared by the Countryside Alliance as part of the build up to the start of the grouse season on 12th August, with a view to introducing some factual information into the debate.

Management for grouse may not be perfect, but it is reacting to change brought about by increasing knowledge and understanding of the importance of moorland beyond simply producing grouse.  For example, the move to enhance peatland, and the embracing of management for the benefit of moorland waders.  

In my travels around the country, I witness the passion and knowledge of grouse keepers at first hand; they are a force for good and worthy of support.

It is interesting to look at the interactive map of where the petition has been signed.  There are some interesting hotspots and very few areas where the petition has not received any support.  As I started to write this article, the petition had 9,649 - it has gone up by 13 since then.  It is on track to achieve the threshold of 10,000 signatures required to achieve a response from the government.

The introductory page is here and the petition runs for six months, until 15 February 2017.  If you have not already signed the petition, I recommend it to you.