Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The first Heather Beetle sightings

I was called yesterday from Blairgowrie Golf Course, which is a heathland course. They were worried about the state of some rank heather under Scots pine trees. It appeared to be showing the classic signs of heather beetle attack that can be expected to appear in late July. The heather had turned a foxy red colour and was not flowering.

This report was backed up by a request for a visit to Langholm Moor where a large area of heather has been hit by what is reported to be heather beetle. I have agreed to visit the moor tomorrow and I will report further. With such a high profile location it is an opportunity to raise once again the issue of heather beetle especially as a high level visit from the Scottish Government takes place next week.

I hope owners of moors will look at their own heather over the next few days and weeks and let me know if they see any sign of heather beetle. Only by collating data that shows the extent of heather beetle attacks can we hope to raise the profile of this scourge of heather so that funding can be obtained to sort out what drives the attacks and how best to restore damaged moorland. In the meantime the best advice is contained in our guidance that is available from our website.

Members may be interested in the MSc project that has been written up for the Annual Report. This is being funded by the Trust and when completed it will provide a summary of all research that has been carried out into heather beetle to date. The early findings of this work support the need, as outlined above, for more research into the ecology of the beetle and how to best manage heather after a beetle attack.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Apologies for the Gap

I am sorry that the flow of Blog posts has dried up recently. This was triggered by my unexpected re-admission to hospital to sort out an infection and then it has been difficult to get back into the flow since. I have been busy setting up a Board telephone conference, writing discussion papers for a Moorland Forum Meeting and a meeting of the Muirburn Group in Scotland and preparing the Annual Report which is due for publication in early August.

I will try and do better, but as always I will welcome feedback about earlier posts or suggestions for future topics to cover.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Electronic Identification

Brussels has listened to farmers concerns and a concession has been agreed. Farms will not have to buy expensive tag readers as animals will be scanned at markets or abbatoirs. This news appears to have satisfied the farming organisations with the exception of NFU Scotland who believe that it should not be necessary to tag sheep until they leave their holding of birth.

For more information see the articles from: Farmers Weekly Interactive or The Farmers Guardian

Although it will still involve more work for sheep farmers this news is a significant step in the right direction. It is interesting to note that the proposals came from Scotland to Defra but the concessions will apply to all UK.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Post set-aside policy

At the risk of straying away from from home turf, I would like to draw your attention to the announcement about the successor scheme to set-aside in England made last week. See the Farmers Guardian article

It has been rightly hailed by Sir Don Curry who chaired discussions between the CLA, NFU and Natural England, Environment Agency and RSPB, as a 'landmark moment'. But why is this important for The Heather Trust? What I like about the announcement is that it shows the willingness of government to listen to the organisations that represent those who actually manage the land and know what is achievable. Not only has the government listened but it has backed a voluntary scheme that will be promoted by all parties to increase the land under environmental management. The CLA & NFU now have to deliver the results.

The relevance to the Trust's area of interest is that I would like to see the same approach applied to other issues where there is a temptation to regulate. My cry for some time has been: let the land owners manage and the farmers farm. The agencies should be placing even more emphasis on facilitation and less on regulation. There is untapped potential in the land management community for environmental management that needs to be encouraged not hindered by current regulations. This potential could be harnessed for everyone's benefit if more common sense was encouraged at the expense of petty bureaucracy.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Perception of heather moorland

The NFU Countryside website has reported that The Moorland Association, The National Gamekeeper's Association and the Countryside Alliance teamed up to commission a survey covering the public's perception of heather moorland. See the full article.

The key findings are:
Britain's heather moorland is highly valued but little understood by the public at large
Nearly 90% thought that heather moorland was important for tranquillity, recreation and wildlife.
Less than 50% understood that heather moorland was actively managed.

I believe that the uplands are taken for granted by the public at large whether this be in the Peak District, where there are 20 million visitors every year, or in the remoter parts of highland Scotland. The complacent view is that the uplands are always there, they always have been and always will be. I think we need to be doing more to challenge this perception. The uplands are not the preserve of the conservation bodies and NGOs, they have developed as a living and working landscape that has been heavily influenced by man's activities, often for the better. As a result we have a decision making role to play in what they look like into the future. A vast amount of private sector money goes into their management and the land management community need to be proud of this. It is not all about sporting activities, part of the justification for ownership is often the pleasure from owning these iconic landscapes. All the different sectors, need to work together better to banish complacency and to harness available funding and aspirations. There is a role for The Heather Trust!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Heather Trust's Annual Report

The Annual Report has become something of a shop window for the Trust, and we are in full production mode with a view to circulating the Report in early August.

Inevitably, the Report must contain some administrative details about the Trust, but I will also include articles of a more general nature. I am also on the lookout for guest articles to add a wider dimension. I think I have lined up an interesting range of authors for these articles, but if anyone would like to contribute something for the report, I would be pleased to hear from them. This could take the form of an amusing anecdote, a photograph, a few words about an event or other activity, or even a short article on a specific topic. The deadline for submissions is 17:00 on the 23rd of July.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Sheep Ticks & Lyme disease

I have long campaigned for sheep ticks to be given a higher profile. The damage the diseases carried by these insects can cause to sheep and grouse are well known and the control groups have been successful in various parts of the country in controlling their numbers. The tick survey that I included details of in recent Annual Reports indicates that ticks are increasing in range and abundance and we need to be doing more rather than less to control their numbers.

For those unfamiliar with sheep ticks, particularly their potential impact on humans, I can do no better than direct you to two websites that have a lot more information: Lyme Disease Action and BADA-UK.

I was recently sent the salutary tale below. This shows that the activities of ticks are not confined to the humble grouse or sheep and Lyme disease is a real threat to humans.

"At a wedding dinner last weekend I sat next to the mother of a 28 year girl called Tilly (also a guest at the wedding) who was confined to a wheelchair on account of Lyme disease.

During the course of dinner I asked about this disease and was concerned by what I heard. The key points that she emphasised have stuck in my mind:

1. Tilly was bitten by a tick between her toes when she was aged 16 - she was not aware of a rash developing at the time.
2. The bacteria carried by the Tick can attack the nervous system which is why Tilly can no longer stand up – it has very nearly killed her 3 times. She has resorted to Chinese medicine as nothing else seems to work.
3. Removing a tick correctly with a tick hook reduces the chance of infection – if you just pull them off they eject their contents from their mandibles.
4. Check for ticks on yourself/children if you have been in an area likely to harbour ticks
5. If anyone finds a tick on their skin:
a. Remove it correctly with a tick hook
b. Watch for flu-like symptoms or a rash. If observed, ask that your GP gives a course of anti-biotics.
6. Treatment with doxycycline or amoxicillin for 14 days is usually very effective in shortening the duration of the rash, and curing the infection.
7. If untreated, nervous system, arthritic or other complications may develop weeks or months after the infection has occurred.

What is most frustrating to Tilly’s mother is how easy it would have been to have prevented this disease from getting hold of Tilly had they caught it earlier."

Friday, 3 July 2009

Knowledge Exchange

This is a key area for us, as I firmly believe that there is not enough information flow between researchers and those who work on the land. I have described our role previously as providing a scientific bridge. What is often forgotten is that the bridge needs to have two-way traffic on it and that researchers have a lot to learn from land managers; providing the reverse flow is something unique that the Trust can bring to the party.

It is disappointing that two project applications for funding from the Natural Environment Research Council that I was supporting have failed to receive funding. One of these was headed up by Board member, Professor Steve Redpath, (Director of Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability) and was seen as a way of bringing the research, policy and practitioner communities together. The second application was to have been for a two year project to develop tools to help with the management of wildfire risk and would have built on the FIRES seminar series that I have also contributed to.

I hope that alternative proposals will rise out of these disappointments and that they will be successful. I will continue to look for opportunities where the Trust can contribute our special attributes to further research and the exchange of knowledge and experience.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

"Looking to the Hills"

Looking to the Hills is a Joint Nature Conservation Council (JNCC) publication that focuses on upland issues and it is well worth a read, especially as the Guest Editorial is written by none other than Ian Condliffe, a member of the Trust's Board. It can be downloaded from the JNCC website.

This particular edition had a long gestation period and the article I submitted based on Scotland's Moorland Forum's annual report for 2008 did not make the final version probably because it was largely overtaken by events. An article by Alison was included in the last edition, but I will continue to submit articles to this publication, as I think it is a good way to promote the work of the Trust and raise awareness of the issues that we hold dear to our heart.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Heather Trust's AGM ~ 23 September 2009

I am delighted that the Trust will be visiting County Durham for the AGM, this year. Mr Michael Stone has kindly agreed that we may use his impressive Picture Gallery at Weardale Lodge for the AGM and this will lead into a discussion meeting followed by lunch and a visit to Weardale Estate, in the afternoon. I hope that as many members as possible will attend the AGM and the discussion meeting which will aim to consider: upland economics, heather burning, forestry regeneration and water management as key themes, but on the day we will be happy to discuss any upland management issues.

The AGM will start at 09:30 and this will lead into the discussion meeting that will start at 11:00. I will circulate further details with the annual report and there will also be additional information available on the website, shortly.