Thursday, 21 June 2018

Professor Charles Gimingham 

Professor Gimingham on his 90th birthday with former Chairman of the Trust, Malcolm Hay

Professor Charles Gimingham, first President of The Heather Trust (2004-2007) has died at the grand age of 95 years.  Charles spent his entire career in the Botany Department at Aberdeen University, becoming Regius Professor of Botany in 1981 until his 'official ' retirement in 1988.

A former President of the British Ecological Society, Charles' influence on his subject was profound.  Much of what we know about the ecological processes occurring in areas like the Cairngorms and the kind of landscape that we see when we visit them can be traced back to Charles' work and influence.  As one of the leading experts on heathland ecology Charles can rightly claim responsibility for inspiring several generations of ecologists.

Our condolences to his family at this sad time.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Peatland Biodiversity

Emperor moths thrive in healthy peatland habitats

As we continue to focus on peatland management, we asked Rebecca Crawford of Butterfly Conservation Scotland for a few words on peatland biodiversity - one of the many fascinating aspects of healthy peatland.

Scotland is a nation rich in peatlands which provide a home for a wide variety of highly specialised animals and plants. Many peat bogs in Scotland are known as “mosses” due to the Sphagnum moss which is found on them. Sphagnum moss is one of the most important elements of a healthy peatland, also know as the bog builder. It holds huge amounts of water, much like a sponge, which helps to keep the peat bog wet and also helps to acidify the soil. Its decayed remains eventually turn into new peat which forms under the surface of the bog in oxygen depleted conditions.

Peat can take thousands of years to form and is a vital carbon store, sealing in the carbon that is normally released into the atmosphere when plants decay. When peat bogs dry out the carbon can be released back into the atmosphere. In Scotland it has been estimated that the carbon stored in our peatlands equates to 100s of years’ worth of the country’s emissions from fossil fuel use. It is therefore vitally important to protect bogs from damage and allow them to keep forming active peat and playing their key role for the climate.

There are many moths and several butterfly species that can be found on peatland habitats, some of which have declined in other areas around Scotland.

The Emperor moth is one of the largest species of moth in the UK. The brightly coloured males fly over peat bogs in April and May in search of female moths which are more grey in colour. The eye spot markings on their wings are very striking and are used to deter predators. The large Emperor caterpillars can be found on heather during late summer.

The Large Heath butterfly is the only butterfly in the UK that is specialised to peatlands. Its caterpillar uses Hare’s-tail Cotton Grass as its larval food and during the adult stage Cross-leaved Heath is important as a nectar source. The adults can be seen flying over the bog in the early summer and the colonies are only on the wing for a short time each year with the peak period in late Jun/early July. Peatland habitats are vulnerable to threats such as afforestation, drainage and peat extraction, and this makes the Large Heath highly sensitive to peatland loss. Through peatland restoration we can help to safeguard these habitats for future populations.

The Bog Squad is a Peatland Action funded project managed by Butterfly Conservation Scotland that aims to help restore peatland habitats and promote their value as places where wildlife can thrive.
Our restoration work is aimed at re-wetting damaged bogs, so that natural flora and fauna can thrive and peat formation can take place again in the future. We dam ditches, remove scrub and pull up conifer seedlings. We also carry out monitoring of butterflies and moths. A new strand of the project – Peatlands for People – is helping to raise awareness about peatland habitats and their importance to communities across Scotland.

Find out more about the project by emailing:

* Rebecca Crawford – Peatlands for People –
* David Hill – Peatland Restoration -

* Or visit our blog

Rebecca Crawford works for Butterfly Conservation Scotland as a Peatlands for People Project Officer. Butterfly Conservation Scotland is a charity dedicated to conserving butterflies, moths and our environment. 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Regional Decision-Making and Budgets post-CAP?

The Moorland Forum at Carsphairn last week

Last Friday, Scotland’s Moorland Forum held its summer away day at Carsphairn in Southwest Scotland. For many this is traditional hill sheep country, but in more recent years tensions have emerged between forestry (trees grow pretty well in this part of Scotland) and renewable energy, tourism and environmental management such as peatland restoration. 

Carsphairn is also in Scotland’s first designated biosphere ( The ideal place then to discuss the future of land use in Scotland and what role regional decision-making might play. The Heather Trust’s Director, Anne Gray, gives her thoughts below -

You just had to listen to the views being presented by the local population at Carsphairn to know that land matters to more than those who own and manage it. It matters because how land is used impacts jobs, local prosperity and quality of life. It affects flood management and water quality, biodiversity, landscapes, recreation opportunities, tourism and mental health to name but a few - the list goes on. Land management can impact these things in a positive way or a negative way depending on how it is done, and there are trade-offs. You can’t get everything from every piece of land - decisions are required. Who should make these decisions is perhaps the trickiest question faced by rural policymakers today.

On the one hand you could say that those who own and manage the land should make the decisions, but then many land uses have been (and continue to be) supported by the public purse, so government surely must have a say in how that money is spent. And if, as above, land use matters to those in its vicinity, then shouldn’t their views should be considered too? Plus, to get better outcomes for some environmental agendas such as reversing declines in nature and better managing flooding, then acting collaboratively across a river catchment or some large area involving a number of farms and estates needs to occur. The question is perhaps not so much “who should make the decisions?”, as “where does everyone fit into the decisions?”

Scotland’s Land Use Strategy, born from the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, recognises that tensions exist between different land uses and that trade-offs need to happen if we are truly to find a way to do sustainable development. The Strategy sets out to find ways in which decisions can be reached. The first Strategy (2011-15) focused on running two Land Use pilots, one in the Scottish Borders and the other in Aberdeenshire. Although each approached things in their own way, the outputs were around mapping the various uses that land in the area could be put to whether or not these represented economically viable choices at that stage – “Opportunity Maps”. This shone a spotlight on the type of management that would need support from somewhere other than traditional markets.

The second Strategy (2016-2021) proposes to take this work to the next stage through the piloting of Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs) which would decide how to priorities the various “opportunities” available. How these partnerships would operate and the level of decision-making they would undertake is not yet clear, but the pilots provide a chance to explore this.

After a day’s discussion both in Carsphairn Village Hall and out on the hill, the conclusions that the Moorland Forum’s summer visit reached were that –

National Level – was where high level objectives for land should be set by government.
Regional Level - was where regional partnerships could decide how their region would best deliver national objectives, while considering regional issues and priorities. Budgets would be held at this level.
Local Level – was where farmers, owners and managers would work with agencies such as SNH, RPID, SEPA (better if they could work as one) to develop local delivery plans which met the regional priorities.

The process might look something like the below -

Regional partnerships don’t need to be created afresh necessarily, there are existing partnerships that already bring the various interests together and could do the job. The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere was an obvious example discussed at Carsphairn. The Tweed Forum in the Borders is another. National parks, deer management groups (provided they could expand their remit) might also work well, since they already operate at scale and collaboratively.

As we move into a post-Brexit era with the challenges that will bring for rural policy and rural funding, now might be a good time to start testing whether effective land use decisions can be made through regional partnerships. If discussion last Friday is anything to go by, there is certainly plenty of appetite for it.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Caring for Chicks

Grouse chicks have specific habitat requirements
As broods of young grouse begin to hatch out across the hills, it’s a good moment to look back through some of the work the Heather Trust has done on habitat management techniques for brood rearing over the past few years.

Several keepers have found that traditional grouse moor management is no longer viable in many areas, and there has been a big push to discover new and innovative ways to produce grouse. Some of this work has been undertaken by cutting heather, and this has opened up a whole new side to heather management in which carefully customised habitat design can work to reduce chick mortality and shift the moorland environment in favour of young birds.

On Speyside, British Moorlands have worked hard to keep grouse chicks safe from predators by cutting in long, narrow strips across the hillside. This means that cover and security are never far away, and young birds can quickly escape into thicker heather when predators arrive. This theory also suggests that narrow cuts through mature heather can “trap” insects which are blown on the wind, and informal studies have shown that cuts provide just as much crucial insect life for chicks as traditional fires burnt over larger areas.

Cutting through mature heather also allows chicks to get access to mature blaeberry plants which are associated with a rich diversity of caterpillars and grubs. This aligns with work undertaken by the Welsh Wildlife Trust near Denbigh which has cut through areas of mature heather to improve access to insects for young black grouse. 2018 has seen a cold, dry spring in many areas, and a general shortage of insect life may prove to be telling later in the summer when broods are being counted before the shooting season opens.

Further south in Cheshire, Heather Trust board member Richard May has been working on “Maze Cutting”, which includes customised “lay-bys” and loops in areas of managed heather so that young birds have somewhere to dry out in periods of wet, windy weather. A little imaginative thinking can really start to “tweak” wider habitat management plans in favour of groundnesting birds, and while these often feel like small details, we believe that they can deliver a big impact when seen as a whole.

The Heather Trust showcases the work put in by moorland owners and keepers in order to generate discussion around new techniques and ideas to boost productivity. A good deal of this information was fed into the Moorland Forum’s Principles of Moorland Management guidance which will soon be published to establish something like “Best Practice” guidelines for heather management.

Read our heather cutting guidance HERE and find out more information about Dick Bartlett’s work at Thanks to Dick Bartlett and Heather Trust Board Member Richard May for their input on this article.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Wildfire Risk Remains High

Wildfire at Loch Carron last night (28th May)

This weekend has seen a number of wildfire outbreaks across the UK’s uplands, most notably in the Peak District and the North West Highlands. Simon Thorp, Consultant to the Heather Trust and Chairman of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum, and a member of the Scottish Wildfire Forum Executive Committee warns that the risk remains high while “ideal” conditions prevail. 

While those in the south have been suffering from thunderstorms and flash flooding, those in the north and west have been enjoying hot, dry weather. The cold, wet days of April suddenly seem to be a long way in the past.

An unwelcome consequence of the hot, dry conditions is the increasing threat from wildfire. For a fire to start and spread, three conditions are required: dry fuel, wind, and a source of ignition. With the late Spring this year, plants have only just started to grow and therefore their moisture content is low – ideal for burning. The recent windy conditions mean fire will spread easily and the glorious sun and blue-sky conditions during this recent holiday period have attracted many people into our upland and moorland areas to provide the source of ignition. That is not to say that igniting fires is always deliberate, but it is often careless. In the words of Bruce Farquharson, Local Senior Officer at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, many of the fires that the SFRS have had to deal with recently were preventable.

The current conditions are forecast to exist until Friday this week, but that is not to say they will not return to the north and west, next week, or appear in another part of the country. At this time of year, the heat in the sun quickly removes any surface moisture after rain to restore the risk levels. The wildfire risk will only really decrease as the vegetation starts to provide new growth with a high moisture content.

This year wildfires have occurred all over the UK – this is not just a Scottish problem. For example, fires have been reported in: Wales, Surrey, Dorset, Dartmoor, the South and North Pennines and the North York Moors.

While the damage to moorland and upland vegetation might be minimal in the longer term, as it normally recovers quickly, we must not forget the risk to people and property from the fire and to the firefighters who are called upon to put it out, or at least contain it, with the associated costs. We have been lucky in the UK that no-one has been killed recently in a wildfire, but we should not be complacent; there have been some close calls and someone’s luck will run out one day.

It is an accepted fact that most wildfires are started by people. The discarded cigarette is the catch-all ignition source but there are many others, including barbecues. Until conditions change, the message must be for anyone working or visiting our moorland and upland areas to exercise extreme caution and avoid starting fires.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Health and Harmony … and Heather

This Tuesday was the deadline for responses to DEFRA’s Health and Harmony Consultation on the future of farming and rural support post-CAP.  Although we are not a lobbying organisation, so important is farming and rural development policy to the UK’s moorlands and uplands we put in a response and we also contributed to the Uplands Alliance response as well.  

We focussed our answers on the questions relevant to our areas of interest and expertise, so the agricultural transition, public money for public goods and resilience in the uplands.

The consultation document specifically recognised that the UK’s uplands and other remote rural areas have specific challenges around fragility and are less resilient economically, but that they are places rich in natural and cultural heritage and have a character of “wildness” that is loved.  

It is clear DEFRA understand that they need to think carefully about the impact of policy changes on the uplands since these areas will find it more difficult to adapt, but they also know they need a deeper understanding of why this is the case.  The Heather Trust were, just last week, down in London as part of a group of uplands interests that met DEFRA officials to provide that insight.

The main points we were able to communicate at the meeting and in our response were -

  •  A welcoming of the desire to create a more rational approach to agricultural and environmental support;
  • Concern with the premise that Direct Payments for agricultural activity should reduce to enable transition to environment payments - because, in upland and moorland areas, it is often the farming activity itself that provides environmental and cultural public goods;
  • Acknowledgement that more can be done to deliver for the environment in upland and moorland areas, but that the activity that will deliver these outcomes will be different in the uplands compared to the lowlands and approaches must be tailored to reflect this;
  • A desire to see government push on with trials and pilots so that the many questions about how change might affect the uplands can start to be answered;
  • ... and trials and pilots should come before direct payment reductions, not least because farmers and land managers are coming together to propose pilots, and that impetus must not be lost over worry about potential temporary funding shortfalls;
  • An outline for the new approach which sees strategic objectives for public goods set by national government, but with delivery prioritised regionally and deliver plans agreed with individuals and collaborative groups – top-down strategy, but bottom-up design and delivery;
  • The importance of much longer-term agreements but with regular reviews, so that farmers and land managers can agree variations to delivery where they see a better outcome is possible.
  • Support for a focus on outcomes, airing a note of caution that payment by results needs to take account of the factors that might impact results, but which are not within the control of the farmer or land manager.
  • Highlighting the need for facilitation and “the honest broker” role to assist collaboration where this is needed.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Spring Beetles

Beetled heather, which was then frosted in February-
This plant will probably recover
There haven’t been many sightings of heather beetle as they start to disperse for the spring this year. Cold winds have made for a cool March and April and held back the warmth that beetles need to fly, but a few individuals have been sighted in Derbyshire and Argyll - the beasties are on the move.  In the article below, the Trust’s Project Manager, Patrick Laurie gives his own experience of heather beetle on a piece of moorland he owns near Dumfries.

As part of a livestock exclusion experiment, a single acre of our hill ground was fenced off in 2010 to learn more about grazing pressure. After a year to recover, heather grew very strongly in years two and three. It looked like the entire fenced-off area would grow into a uniform spread of heather, but heather beetle struck in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Heather beetle has long been associated with wet ground, and this seemed to be proof of that old wisdom. Many heather plants were killed, but plenty of vegetation bounced back after some pretty severe damage.

Wetter moors are often challenged by invasive grass species, and the uniform heather coverage was soon broken up by tussocks of deer grass and some early signs of molinia growth. Rather than manage the damage on a single acre, I decided to leave things alone to see what would happen next.

Beetle was absent in 2015, but returned again in 2016 and 17. Last year’s damage was lighter than usual, but it has been interesting to see heather recover and restore itself year after year. Heather is no longer dominant in the fenced-off area, and wet ground has also led to a slow invasion of star moss.

This has been an interesting little project for all kinds of reasons, but it’s worth writing about the plot now because while much of the beetle-damaged heather currently looks wretched and tatty (this wasn’t helped by some heavy frosting/windburn in February), it will soon be greening up and springing back to life again. This picture was taken on Saturday and could hardly look less hopeful, but plants like these have looked worse in previous years and gone on to have flowers in July.  

It's hard to draw big-picture conclusions from a single small plot in isolation, but it makes me wonder 

1) whether beetles are one of several mechanisms which drive heather loss on wet ground; 

2) whether heather will often recover from beetle damage provided there is light touch, adaptive management;

and 3) would the heather have recovered if there had been livestock grazing in this fenced off area?

Some interesting food for thought.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Peak District Visit

Anne Gray and Geoff Eyre at Hope, Derbyshire
The Trust headed south last week so that Anne Gray could meet a few of our supporters and contacts in the Peak District. We’re lucky to have some strong ties in this fascinating place, and we would like to build on these connections over the next few years.

Every area of moorland is different, but the Peak District faces some unique challenges around heavily degraded peatland and high visitor pressure. Many of the rules which govern land management further North simply do not apply in Derbyshire and Cheshire, so it was useful to drop in and visit a handful of contacts on the ground for updates.

·      Moors for the Future: Fascinating to catch up with Chris Dean and the MFF team in their office at Edale where we were shown around the project offices and learned about recent peatland restoration work, bird surveys and public engagement in the “bogtastic van”!

·      Geoff Eyre: Geoff is always a mine of information and enthusiasm, and we were thrilled to head out for a look at some of his bracken management and heather reseeding work on the high ground above Hope. Geoff has been pioneering new moorland management techniques over the last thirty years, and we owe a great deal to his innovative, practical approach.

·      Richard May: Richard has been a valuable part of the Heather Trust’s Board for several years, and it was useful to see his moorland restoration work at Piggford and High Moor near Wildboarclough. Richard raised some interesting ideas about what comes after moorland restoration, and there is great scope to explore these two moors as a case study focused on upland farming after Brexit.

·      Crag Estate: The Trust has been running a heather beetle study at Crag Estate and Combs Moss near Buxton for the past five years, and we paid a quick visit to the monitoring sites which compare various treatments for beetle damage. It was interesting to catch up with Kath Longden of Penny Anderson Associates who is carrying out the ecological survey work, and also to meet with Richard Bailey, one of the gamekeepers from Crag Estate.

We hope to be back in the Peak District again soon!