Friday, 27 November 2009

Natural England - Launch of the Upland Vision

I attended the launch of Natural England's Upland Vision in Ilkley on 12 Nov 09.  Their press release gives details of the launch, a link to the document and also comments from some of the organisations that were represented at the launch.

The Vision is welcomed, although perhaps inevitably it is good on aspirations and less good on delivery.  An interesting part of the work associated with the Upland Vision is the establishment of 3 demonstration sites across the country to trial some of the principles.  More details are available on the NE website.  Hopefully this work will help to show how the Vision can be delivered.  It is work that I would like to keep in close contact with as it is very close to the Trust's heart. The need for compromise to allow upland owners and managers to generate income to pay for the necessary management of these areas needs to be emphasised and I hope that these demonstrations sites will address this.

Perhaps there is a case for an Upland Strategy to be developed that will provide a direction for upland policy from where we are now to the aspirations set out in the Vision.

In Scotland, we have been advised recently of compensatory conifer planting on good quality heather moorland following the clear felling of another part of an estate.  To my mind, there is a clear need for an Upland Strategy in all parts of the UK to protect our upland areas and stop this sort of nonsense.  Is this just unnecessary additional bureaucracy, or would it serve a useful purpose?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Scotland - Muirburn Consultation Responses

Alison has produced a summary of the responses to the Muirburn section of the Scottish Wildlife & Natural Environment Bill Consultation produced by members of Scotland's Moorland Forum.  This is available from the Trust's website.  It can only be a summary and the full responses are available from the SG Website.

A pattern can be seen from these responses: there is general agreement on most issues but there is a polarisation about burning in spring.  Several organisations are promoting an end to the burning season of 31 Mar 09.  I do not support this.

  • There is no compelling evidence to support the early cessation of the season.  References are made to the BTO report commissioned by the Moorland Forum, but I thought it had been acknowledged that this had been ambivalent.  It is surprising how such reports keep coming around.
  • Losing the ability to burn in April would cut off most of the burning that takes place in the highlands.  This would result in more rank vegetation and a greater risk of wildfires.  I argue that this would produce a greater risk to peat and bird habitat.
The other issue that surprises me is the response to the proposal to remove the requirement for the notification of neighbours.  It is pretty clear that this has never been consistently carried out and arguably it is a bit of bureaucratic nonsense.  Yet several respondents are reluctant to see this requirement removed.  I would prefer it removed to guidance that notification occurs where burning is to take place near a sensitive habitat or forestry close on the other side of the march.  Otherwise what purpose does it serve?  The default position should be that muirburn can be expected on all managed moorland every year.  Perhaps notification should only be required when muirburn is not going to take place!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Animal Health Bill - England

It had been thought that the proposal to introduce a mechanism where animal keepers shared the costs associated with the prevention and control of animal diseases had been shelved.  Not so.  See the Countryside Alliance Newsletter for more details.

As Simon Hart puts it, "This is cost shifting, not cost sharing".

Friday, 6 November 2009

The woes of hill sheep farming

Farmers Weekly has produced a short video (6 mins) that details the problems facing sheep farmers in Western Scotland.  EID, lamb prices, land abandonment, new entrants, and food supply get a mention. 

The video paints a rather chilling picture and I doubt that the picture is much different in other remote parts of the UK.  Are we doing enough to safeguard the future of the hill farming industry that is so important for food production and the management of the uplands that also provides employment for people who keep our rural communities viable?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Beaver Update

For an update on the fate of the Beavers re-introduced into Argyll in May see the article in today's edition of The Scotsman.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

International Year of Biodiversity 2010

Hands up all those who knew that 2010 was to be the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB)?  I will not be surprised if this event has passed most people by but the activities are to be launched in London on 25 Nov 09. More details can be found on the website of the lead organisation, the Natural History Museum.

The United Nations has declared the following aims for the IYB
  • to increase awareness of the importance of biodiversity for our well-being;
  • to halt the loss of biodiversity, which is currently up to 100 times greater than the rate of natural extinction; and
  • to celebrate success stories.
This may not be exciting stuff, but there is a close linkage between ecosystem services (or natural services) such as the provision of water, food and fibre from our moorland, and the carbon storage / sequestration function, and the need to maintain moorland habitats in a healthy, diverse condition.  Biodiversity may be an 'old', overused concept, but linked to the latest concept of ecosystem services, it gains a new lease of life.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Scotland's Moorland Forum Meeting

Last week was a busy week as we geared up for one of the three annual meetings of the full Forum on Friday.  It is always difficult to strike the right balance between providing challenging presentations and discussion for the representatives of the 30 member organisations while also keeping the governance of the Forum going.  We ended up with 3 presentations:  Habitat Trends from the Countryside Survey 2007 (Ed Mackey, SNH); the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework document (Prof Des Thompson, SNH) and Carbon Storage in UK Peatlands (Dr Fred Worrall, Durham University).  Highlights: Bracken is expanding, heather is contracting in Scotland; SNH is worried about the effects of a lack of prey on Hen harrier populations as well as about persecution; blocking of grips is bad for greenhouse gas emissions (due to the release of methane), but good for keeping peat and its carbon on the hill.

We had allocated 40+ mins for governance issues but I was pleased to note that this was squeezed into little over 15mins by more interesting discussion and everyone appeared to be happy to rely on the paperwork that I had circulated in advance of the meeting - the benefit of the 5Ps (prior planning preventing poor performance).

I welcome the input from such a diverse range of organisations to these meetings.  We do not all agree, and it is not all sweetness and light, but it remains an effective way to build consensus.