Sunday, 26 December 2010

Implementation of EU Pesticides Legislation

Defra ran a consultation for the 12 weeks up to 4 May 2010 that sought views on how the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (Directive 2009/128/EC) should be implemented.

The most significant part of this Directive for the Trust is Article 9 that deals with aerial application of pesticides, important in connection with bracken control.  The full summary of the Consultation can be found on Defra's website - page 28 covers aerial application. 

Article 9 requires Member States to prohibit the use of aerial applications and permit such use only when a series of conditions have been met or are present. The Directive also requires Member States to: identify a competent authority responsible for considering and approving applications to carry out aerial spraying operations, establishing procedures for considering and notifying the outcome of requests and making records available to the public; establish a monitoring system to ensure that the conditions under which the approval to spray have been met; and ensure that from 2013 aircraft are fitted with accessories that constitute the best available technology to reduce spray drift.

Defra has concluded that the responsible application of pesticides by aerial spraying does no pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment and, consequently, the derogation to allow aerial spraying will be used.  The existing legislative control regime is believed to provide a basis for meeting the requirements of the Directive and this will be adapted to ensure the continuation of properly regulated aerial applications, through a consent-based approach.

In summary, bracken control by aerial application of Asulox will remain possible.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

England & Wales: 'High Hopes' - CLA Uplands Report

This report by the CLA, published today, summarises the analysis from the recent report by the Commission for Rural Communities and then expands on the Commission's recommendations. The report also argues that the recommendations apply equally to the Uplands in Wales.  I suspect that much, if not all, is also applicable to Scotland.

Carbon in the Uplands- Conference Report

On behalf of the The Heather Trust, The Southern Uplands Partnership and The Crichton Carbon Centre, I am delighted to announce the publication of the report from the Carbon in the Uplands conference that was held in Moffat, in April this year.  I would like to thank all those who: contributed to the conference, provided papers for this report and those who attended the conference.  The Report is being circulated in electronic form only, and please feel free to circulate it within your organisations or to your contacts.  

In the fast changing world of carbon there will be scope to hold a follow on conference and we are reviewing the opportunities for this.  If you are not already on the Trust's circulation list and would like to be kept informed, please let me have your details.

Brash spreading by helicopter

YouTube has four video clips of Dinsdale Moorland Services working with a helicopter to spread heather brash.  Some might argue that this is overkill, but they might be the people who do not move brash around by hand across peat hags.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Re-wilding Scotland

Follow this link to an interesting video that considers re-wilding issues and includes discussion about reintroductions into Scotland.

Friday, 10 December 2010

More about Phytophthora

In a recent post, I mentioned that on the Craignish peninsula, in Argyll, Japanese larch have been found to be infected with P. ramorum.

In another part of Argyll, Lawson’s Cypress trees in Balloch Castle Country Park, near Loch Lomond, are the latest casualties to the Phytophthora pathogen. In this case, Phytophthora lateralis, is the cause of the disease. Whilst “new” to Scotland, P. lateralis has been present on the Western seaboard of the USA for some time.  Here it has also affected Lawson’s Cypress trees.

P. lateralis is a water-borne organism which can live and grow in the roots and lower stems of its host trees, surviving in a resting state in soil, and actively travelling in surface water.  In affected trees, the foliage of the crown begins to discolour, and it wilts and withers. In small trees, this may happen over a period of weeks, and with larger trees, the process can take between 1 and 4 years.

This continual drip feed of information is starting to be a little ominous for dwarf shrubs on moorland.  I will be keeping my ear to the ground.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Phytophthora Ramorum found on Japanese Larch in Scotland

This is a first for Scotland.  Similar infections have been found in SW England previously.  This is not just a forestry issue, there are real concerns that the disease could become prevalent on heather species.  Rhodoendron is a primary host, but the increasing levels of infection on other species, including Japanese Larch, is of great concern.

Read the FCS press release for more details about this outbreak.

Winter Strikes but Exmoor is reached

The weather has even affected the workings of the Trust and we elected to postpone the Board meeting that should have taken place in Edinburgh, today.  It was a good job we did, as Carstairs was out of commission through a signalling defect all morning, which would have stranded those of us who would have travelled from the south.

However, all is not lost as I managed to catch a flight down to Bristol and I am in place ready to speak at a meeting to discuss burning practices on Exmoor, tomorrow morning.  It would have been easier if I could have used to time spent making sure I got here on writing my presentation.  Who needs sleep when there are moorland management issues to address?  I will be trying to encourage a lively debate with a view to getting more good quality burning, or swaling as it is known here, carried out to regenerate the tired heather, provide better grazing and improve the conservation status of the moors.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Scotland: Windfarm guidance scoops green award

Well done to Scottish Renewables, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Forestry Commission Scotland for winning a Scottish Renewables Green energy Award in the best environmental initiative category.

The Windfarm Guidance that this group produced is well worth a read by all those involved with windfarms or who like to know about their construction.  It is available to download from the SNH Website.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Wildlife Estates Scotland

This initiative was launched last week and it is very welcome.  This is a Scottish version of the initiative that is running throughout Europe and the aim is that by signing up as a Wildlife Estate, an estate will be able to demonstrate the role that Scottish estates play in delivering a wide range of benefits to Scotland.  It is also hoped that the initiative will help to address some ongoing tensions in the Scottish countryside.  The concept briefing suggests that there is much more to unite than divide, and this is a view that I wholeheartedly support.

The press release provides some high level quotes and the Concept Briefing explains the background to the initiative.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

IUCN Peatland Programme - Open Inquiry - Written Evidence

The written evidence that was submitted to the Inquiry for the meeting on 3 November  is now available from the peatland programme website.

This includes the evidence that I presented with Tim Baynes, on behalf of SRPBA, which had input from Martin Gillibrand of the Moorland Association.  This evidence argued the case for better communication with the land management community.  Their understanding of the issues should not be assumed but their ability to assist with the improvement of the condition of peatlands should not be under-estimated.  Much work is already underway as stated in our evidence.

On the back of this, I have been asked to organise an event for land managers in March to ensure that the Peatland Programme captures the views of the land management community.  Attendance is likely to be by invitation only with a view to attracting key players with an experience of peatland management.

Monday, 29 November 2010

CAP post-2013: EU Commission's proposals published

For those seeking an easily digested guide to the CAP proposals published by the EU Commission on 18 November, I recommend the Smith's Gore publication CAP Reforms post-2013.

Note the three main objectives of the the new CAP:
1.  Viable food production
2.  Sustainable management of natural resources and climate action
3.  Balanced territorial development

The table of good news vs bad news makes salutary reading.  The ratio is 1 : 6.

How this will affect upland agriculture remains to be seen, but the possible shift of payments for specific natural constraints (e.g. LFA) into Pillar 1 payments that are co-financed within the UK is a cause for concern. 

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Raptor Dispersal Tracking

Photo: jackhawk9
One of the presentations given at the Northern England Raptor Forum meeting on Saturday was by Stephen Murphy from Natural England.  He presented the data he has collected about the dispersal of Hen Harriers from the Forest of Bowland using GPS tracking devices.  The ability to monitor the movements of these birds clearly helps gain a better understanding of their needs.  One bird had travelled from Bowland to Portugal and had returned to his nest site.  Comments were made about how the birds tend to move between favoured roosts, many of which are associated with grouse moors.  This will come as no surprise to many.  

The birds are not tracked continuously as I believe the GPS packs do not have enough battery power so there are some gaps in cover, but it is still possible to gain a good idea of the birds movements.

I have not been able to find any detail on the web for Natural England's tracking (perhaps I have not found the right place) but if you would like to see the potential of the technique have a look at the Cairngorms website where similar work is taking place.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

England: Shaping the Nature of England

I have contributed to the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) programme and they have just published a paper Shaping the Nature of England: Policy Pointers from the RELU Programme.  This draws on the findings of a large range of Briefing Papers produced as part of the programme.  The paper provides a stand back approach in a commendably brief form and is well worth a look for those interested in redefining policy for the uplands.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Heather Restoration and Bird Populations

Geoff Eyre's presentation at the Glenlethnot heather restoration event last week included a slide of the numbers of some bird species on Howden Moor in the Peak District before and after his heather restoration work.  Geoff has kindly agreed that I can circulate this information and the graph is shown below.  It speaks for itself.

Geoff provided the following additional explanation:  The 1993 figures are taken from the English Nature bird survey.  The 2004 data comes from the Sheffield Bird Study Group survey carried out for the National Trust.  It was reported that Skylarks and Pipits were too numerous to count.

In 2010, an increase in grouse, and hares has been observed, the number of skylarks has dropped slightly, but other species have been maintained at the same level.  Populations of Snipe, Black grouse, Merlin, Kestrel, Raven, and Peregrines are thought to have increased and in 2006, Hen Harriers hunted the moor.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

England and Wales Wildfire Forum

I am delighted to have been elected as Vice-Chairman of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum and I will be working with the Chairman, Paul Hedley, who is the Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service.  I see part of my role as being to represent the land management community on this Forum and to ensure that the Forum works to promote the interests of landowners and managers alongside those of the Fire & Rescue Services.

Heather Trust and Heather Beetle in 'The Times'

© Malcolm Storey, 2005,
Are we making progress with raising the profile about this scourge of heather?  This piece by Nick Drainey may not exactly be front page material but every little helps.

We are starting work with our President, Rob Marrs, to do some restoration trial work in the wake of the beetle outbreak on Langholm Moor in Dumfries-shire.  This is a first step towards expanding our knowledge about heather beetle and how to manage it.  I will report on this in more detail when the work is fully under way.

A Special Kind of Light

Keith McDougall has been a long-time supporter of the Trust.  He has enjoyed a lifetime's passion for the landscapes of Norfolk and Scotland and although he claims only to be an amateur artist, the charm of his paintings in his delightful book capture and lead on irresistibly from one page to the next.

More details are available from the publisher's website.  Keith is offering supporters of the Trust a special price of £38 per copy, incl. p&p, or an even better price of £30 per copy, for 3 or more copies.

Moors for the Future conference

The Moors for the Future project is well established and has been at the forefront of heather restoration on peat since its outset. It was set up with HLF funding by the Peak District National Park to respond to the devastation on Bleaklow, above Glossop, with the devastating wildfire of April 2003, providing the final push to get something done.  I have supported the project since the outset and I was asked to chair the second day of the conference that took place on 15-16 November.  This conference marks the start of the second phase of the project that is now seeking to restore heather on bare peat in the South Pennines and on other parts of the Peak District.

The project has held many conferences and these have become a focus of the scientific research effort for all the local universities in Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds but also for all those carrying out research into uplands, especially peat management, in the rest of the UK.  They have proved to be very popular.

Three thoughts struck me from this conference:

1.  I am not convinced that enough thought has been given to the management / maintenance of the restored areas after the helicopters have departed and the vegetation has been re-established.
2.  There was a marked lack of land management input into this conference, in spite of the best efforts by the project team to attract people.  Whatever the reason for non-attendance, the lack of a balanced input detracted from the conference.  It should be noted that the land managers will be essential to solving the first issue I have outlined above.
3.  Why is it only MFF that is holding these conferences?  I think that there is scope for more similar conferences, especially if they can be made to attract delegates from all sectors.  I would like to see research that meets the needs of land managers for more information and has a practical application encouraged in this way.   Pure science can be encouraged by others.  Scotland would provide a good base for a conference to promote the research work taking place north of the border.   Is this a role for The Heather Trust or Scotland's Moorland Forum?

Monday, 15 November 2010

A Busy Period

Since the start of November, I have been going through a busy period and rather than neglect the Blog and let this period pass without comment, I thought it would be relevant to add a composite post to provide a feel for the range of work I get involved with.

On 3 November, with Tim Baynes, representing the SRPBA, I appeared in front of the Commission of Inquiry set up by the IUCN UK Peatland Programme to be questioned on the written evidence I had submitted, which had also had some input from Martin Gillibrand of the Moorland Association.  This provided an opportunity to re-express the view that the work needs to address delivery as well as research and to speak in favour of muirburn.

I visited Langholm Moor Demonstration Project on 9 November to meet Simon Lester, the Gamekeeper and Damian Bubb, the Project Scientist, to make a start with setting up the heather beetle trial we have been asked to carry out.  This will look at different heather restoration techniques after the severe beetle attack this year.

The English Moorland Burning Working Group met in Newcastle on Thursday when the Trust's input to guidance documents, the IUCN Peatland Programme and Heather Beetle issues was in demand. 

We ran a Heather Restoration event at Glenlethnot in Angus on Friday for 36 people in total.  We were fortunate that good weather followed close on the heels of atrocious conditions on Thursday.  We looked at two different approaches: the soft approach, using burning and sheep to manage the heather (successful at Glenlethnot) and Geoff Eyre, who joined us from the Peak District, explained his spray-burn-reseed techniques. 

The weekend passed working on the latest draft of the report on the Uplands Solutions project for Scotland's Moorland Forum and then ended in the Peak District in preparation for the Moors for the Future conference, today & tomorrow - I am chairman for tomorrow.  The Upland Solutions project is an important piece for work for the Forum and the production of the report has been challenging.

Wednesday will see me in Edinburgh for a meeting with Rob Dick (Board member) and Richard Allen (United Phosphorus Ltd - owners of Asulox) to explore how the Trust could promote bracken control more effectively.  This is an important topic where I would like to see better coordination between the different interests.   

And finally in this run of activity I am giving a presentation to the North of England Raptor Forum on Saturday, near Huddersfield in Yorkshire.  I hope they know what to expect!

Monday, 8 November 2010

What do the UK Uplands Mean to You?

See the post on the Blog I run for Scotland's Moorland Forum.

Upland Management: Rights & Wrongs - Heather Restoration Event

This is a repeat of the post added earlier.  Places are still available.

This event will take place on the Glenlethnot Estate, near Edzell on Friday, 12 November 10:30 - 16:00.  Further details and the flyer are available on The Heather Trust's website.

I am delighted that I will have the support of Kenny Wilson and Geoff Eyre for this event.  Neither of these need much in the way of introduction.  Kenny is the former headkeeper from the Leadhills Estate and he has been advising the estate on the muirburn and the re-introduction of sheep grazing and their additional use as tick mops.  Geoff Eyre has developed innovative techniques for gathering, treating and re-seeding with heather and is now much in demand in all parts of the UK.

There will also be input from the estate's keeper, Gavin Hannam, who has done some great work to improve the condition of the heather over the last six years.

I expect this event to be well supported and I look forward to a lively and interesting discussion.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Scotland: The Pack Inquiry

The final report from the Pack Inquiry has been published.   The main role for farming in Scotland is confirmed to be to produce food, but in addition, it is acknowledged that society now demands assistance with dealing with other global challenges.  These issues combine to provide justification for the continuation of public support.

The Inquiry highlights five the key challenges: food security, climate change, water supply, energy use and biodiversity. The enquiry also believes that the strength of rural communities is intrinsically inter-linked with a sustainable agricultural industry.

In very simple terms, the report supports the continuation of public sector funding post-2013, but suggests that more should be demanded in return.  Specifically, the support will be linked to the LFA.  Within the LFA, payments will come from an area-based support, a top-up payment and coupled beef calf and lamb schemes.  This support acknowledges the dependence on livestock in the LFA regions and the limited ability to respond to market forces.

Outside the LFA, the support will come from an area-based support and a top-up payment only, and this acknowledges the increased flexibility that the better agricultural conditions allow.

The full report: The Road Ahead for Scotland
The Executive Summary
The Scottish Government announcement

There is a view from the NFUS on the Moorland Forum's Blog.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Moorland Plant Guide

The North Pennines AONB has published a useful fold out guide to common moorland plants that can help with identification.  It is available as a download from their website.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Heather & Hillforts Project, 11-13 October 2010

I had an interesting trip to North Wales to meet with several different groups, coordinated by the Project Officer for the Heather & Hillforts Project.

This is a Landscape Partnership project that has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a three year period, but I was delighted to learn during my visit that funding has been found to run the project for a further two years.  This will give the project team an improved chance of making a long term difference.  Three years is just too short to win support and then introduce lasting change.

I met with a group of commoners on the northern common in the Clwydian Hills and viewed the effective bracken control that had been carried out and then discussed heather burning and gorse control.  The heather burning programme had suffered in recent years and there was much rank heather in evidence.

It was refreshing to come across great enthusiasm for burning and the commoners I met were keen to get started.  One of the issues discussed was all too familiar: how to introduce burning on an unburnt area while staying within the regulations.  It would be more beneficial for the heather and biodiversity if a derogation could be granted to burn larger areas to allow a start to be made.  This would show support for the graziers as it would be easier for them to get a burning programme started and it would encourage them to burn sensitively.

I find these visits useful as they keep me connected to issues on the ground.  Much of my time is spent driving a computer, but it is good to continue to be faced with practical problems.  I have long argued that you need to 'stand in the purple stuff' to gain an understanding of the scale of the issues facing those on the ground.

In contrast to the the farmers,  as part f the same visit I was invited to give a presentation to the students at a local agricultural college.  Dis-interested would have been a kind way to describe them, and a fuller description is another story!  What opportunities they are wasting.

Annual General Meeting

It was strange to be holding the AGM on home turf this year, and not just in Dumfries but in my house at Newtonrigg.  It was a lot easier to prepare from here rather than having to lug all the equipment to somewhere else.  We stuck to the usual arrangement of holding a Board meeting followed by the AGM as this has proved to be a successful recipe for the day.

One of the key issues for the Board was how the Trust is working following the restructuring carried out earlier in the year.  I was glad to be able to report that is very much a case of so far so good.  Our finances are in good shape and we have plenty of work on, with more in the pipeline.  With the Board, I was keen to identify the key areas of work that the Trust would engage with.  In summary these will be: Scotland's Moorland Forum, bracken control, development of study sites, heather beetle and carbon related issues.  However, this is not to say that we will not be reactive to other areas of work.

After a morning of meetings, it was good to get out to where it all happens.  Ben Weatherall was kind enough to host a visit to his moor at Troloss, about 20 miles from Dumfries, on the watershed of the Southern Uplands.  We were blessed by good weather and were able to inspect the heather regeneration work, using the spray-burn-reseed technique, that has been in progress for the last 8 years.  The results were very encouraging and it was a surprise for all of us, including Ben, to see a good number of grouse.  The comment was made that it was rare to see so many grouse on a HT AGM visit!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

John Muir Trust - Vision for Wild Land & Wild Places

The JMT has published its new Vision for Wild Land & WIld Places and it is available from their website.

Comprehensive Spending Review

Smiths Gore have published a commendably short summary of the how the review affects rural areas.  It can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

What if Britain's hill farmers managed the land for wildlife and carbon?

This video was produced by the RELU funded Sustainable Uplands project that I supported.  It provides a slightly Peak District centred view of upland management but it well worth 8:06 minutes of your time to peruse.  It includes the some down-to-earth statements from Geoff Eyre and introduces the concept of carbon trading.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Swaling on Exmoor

Swaling on Molland Moor
The Exmoor National Park Authority has published its response to the proposed guidance to be published by Defra in amplification of the Heather & Grass Burning Code covering swaling (the local term for heather burning).   Details of the response can be downloaded from the ENPA website,  and there is a link to the Defra guidance.

The local concern is that the standard practices contained in the Code do not reflect the traditional management practices on Exmoor and that greater flexibility is required to meet the aspirations of the land management community.  The concerns about the proposed guidance are based on three key issues: (a) authorised burn plots are too small; (b) rotations are too long and moving toward shorter rotations would be better, and (c) just burning, or just grazing or just machine cropping are never going to be enough to actually maintain/retain the heather moorland.

While I understand the reasons for the guidance contained in the latest version of the code, as I was part of the Group that advised Defra, we need the support of the local land managers if any swaling is to take place and the Code is to be implemented.  If the support of the land managers is lost because the Code does not reflect the traditional practices in the region, nothing will happen and the biggest loser will be the moorland on Exmoor, which is what we are all trying to preserve.  My message: we must retain the ability to tailor national guidance to meet local aspirations and match local conditions.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Scotland - Draft Land Use Strategy

The consultation on the draft Land Use Strategy is now open and details can be downloaded from The Scottish Government's website.  Responses will be accepted until 17 December, but early responses by the end of November will be welcomed.  

I will be looking at this from a Heather Trust perspective but also on behalf of Scotland's Moorland Forum.

Friday, 17 September 2010

IUCN UK Peatland Programme’s Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands

I have blogged previously about this Commission of Inquiry, for which I am a member of the Advisory Committee, but I would like to provide you with a reminder about the conference that is taking place on 28-29 September 2010.  It is going to be a big and interesting gathering.  Those who want to attend this conference have probably already registered, but may I draw your attention to the eight reviews that have been published recently that will form the main point of discussion at the conference.

These can be downloaded from the Programme's website and are well worth a look:

State of the UK Peatlands

Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Potential

Peatland Biodiversity

Impacts of Peatland Restoration

Impacts of Burning Management on Peatlands

Peatland Hydrology

Importance of Peatlands for the Historic Environment

Policy Options for Sustainable Management

The issues covered go wider than just peat management and the Burning Management and Peatland Restoration reviews are of particular relevance.

I had some input into the Sustainable Management review and Rob Marrs featured in the Burning Management review.  I have a short speaking part at the conference, wearing my Moorland Forum hat, as has Ian Condliffe, so we will be well represented.

I will aim to provide a summary of the key findings in this blog after the conference.  Happy reading!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Invitation to Participate in the FIRES Seminar Series Follow-up Survey

Message from Dr Julia McMorrow & Dr Anna Gilchrist

Four FIRES seminars on the effects of moorland and heathland wildfires and prescribed fires on ecosystem services were held during 2008-2009, The series was funded jointly by ESRC and NERC.

A policy brief has been produced. It summarises the key messages from the series, policy recommendations and knowledge gaps:

We would like to know what you think about these recommendations. Please take 10 minutes to complete our on-line survey. We are keen to hear from anyone who has views on UK vegetation fires. It is not necessary to be involved in fire management or policy-making, or to have attended the FIRES seminars. We welcome responses from as wide a range of stakeholders as possible. Please feel free to forward it to other interested parties.

The survey closes on October 15th. Responses are individual and anonymous. However, if you choose to provide your contact details we will enter you into the prize draw for a £25 book token. Further information can be found on the introductory page of the survey. If you have any queries please contact

Click here to go to the survey:

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Heather for Cutting

Dinsdales in action
The last post prompted me to think about the supply of heather seed.  It is a finite resource as it has to be collected from moors that machinery can travel on and there must be reasonable access to a track or road.

The demand for seed is increasing and this begs the question of its value.

If the value increases sufficiently there will come a point where it will be viable for the owners of suitable heather ground to grow the heather as a crop.  The heather on a suitable area would be nurtured specifically for cutting in return for a payment when it is harvested.

This may already be in the minds of owners of moorland, but it would be interesting to learn at what price this would become a worthwhile exercise.  Has anyone got any thoughts?

Wanted: Source of Heather for Cutting

A contractor who is bidding to carry out the next phase of heather regeneration work as part of the Moors for the Future Project in the Peak District is looking for a source of heather to cut for brash to be applied to bare peat.

The heather needs to be mature (probably at least 200mm tall) with access for cutting machinery and within reach of a road or track.

The contractor is looking for up to 70ha and is offering £2/T for the cut material.  The amount of cut material produced will vary with the age and density of the heather but is likely to be in the range 25-75T/ha.

The contractor is a recognised and well-respected moorland contractor who has a range of specialised equipment to carry out this work and therefore will cause minimum impact on the ground.

The benefit of this for the landowner, is to provide some income in return for having an area of heather managed without cost.

If anyone is interested in this, please get in touch:
01387 723201

Monday, 6 September 2010

Wales: Glastir and Common Land

Farmers Weekly Interactive carried an article quoting the Common Land Committee of the Farmers Union of Wales expressing concerns about the effect of Glastir.

Apparently, 80% of the commoners on a common will need to sign up to a scheme and there will be nervousness about how the actions of the minority might affect the majority.  In common with other agri-environment schemes, the rules set by the EU for Glastir are not thought to be flexible enough to cope with the unique management structure of commons, and perhaps the same concern could be expressed for the crofting counties of Scotland.

Is Wales about to get this wrong?  Are the same problems that limit the effectiveness of Environmental Stewardship in England and Rural Priorities in Scotland about to be repeated?  How can we break out of this apparently vicious circle?

Friday, 27 August 2010

Scotland: Wildlife & Natural Environment Bill - Call for Views

The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs and Environment Committee is seeking views on the general principles of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 9 June 2010 and it is expected that the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee will be designated lead Committee for scrutiny of the Bill’s general principles. The Scottish Government has produced a Policy Memorandum and Explanatory Notes, including a Financial Memorandum, to accompany the Bill.

The closing date for written submissions is Wednesday, 1 September 2010.  The Committee prefers to receive written submissions electronically in Word format, and prefers that responses do not exceed 4 A4 pages in length, if possible.  These should be sent to:

From the Trust's perspective, I am principally concerned with the Muirburn provisions.  In general, I am happy with these, as they represent a big step in the right direction.  The price is losing the ability to burn above 450m (1,500ft) to 15 May - I think this is reasonable.  

My one area of concern is the neighbour notification provisions.  We have forsaken the opportunity to apply common sense and introduced a bureaucratic system which once again is likely to be largely ignored.  However, this is not a deal breaker and I hope that the land management community will be able to benefit from the increased flexibility that these changes will introduce.

For those wanting more detail, the Muirburn section in the Explanatory Notes starts at paragraph 145, and the financial section on muirburn at paragraph 252.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wales: Glastir Scheme - New application period

The Welsh Assembly Government has announced that the application period to join the All-Wales element of the Glastir scheme will run from October 4th to November 22nd 2010.  This is to accommodate a final change to the scheme's options in direct response to discussions with the farming unions.  

See the Welsh Assembly website for more details. 

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

IUCN UK Peatland Programme’s Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands

I contributed to the review of 'Policy Options for Sustainable Management of UK Peatlands' which is one of eight scientific reviews of priority topics carried out as part of the Commission of Inquiry.

All eight Reviews are now available to download and the Commission is inviting interested organisations and individuals to respond to the draft Reviews.  Responses should be sent by e-mail to the Inquiry team at as soon as possible and no later than Monday, 20 September 2010.

The draft reviews will be discussed at the upcoming 'Investing in Peatlands - the Climate Challenge' conference at Durham University on 28-29 September 2010.  For more information, and to register for the conference, visit

The Commission of Inquiry will also examine wider issues of relevance to policy and land management practice and therefore it is keen to receive general views on the priorities for delivering peatland restoration.

An Open Inquiry event is to be held at the University of Edinburgh on 3 November 2010 which will take oral evidence based on these submissions.

Phytophthora Ramorum and Kernoviae

Stem lesions on Bilberry
For those still struggling with pronunciation try:  "fy-toff-thora"

These two, linked diseases reportedly attack heather, although their common name of "Sudden Oak Death" gives an indication of the preferred host.  Apparently this disease is more of a threat in England and Wales than in Scotland, although I do not think that there is any scope for complacency anywhere.  There have been several hundred recorded outbreaks in England & Wales, but only 29 in Scotland.

The main host for spreading the diseases is Rhododendron but of concern is the outbreak that has been reported in Japanese Larch in SW England.  The diseases capacity for affecting heather & bilberry (blaeberry) is not yet clear, although these species are reported as hosts.

For those seeking to know more and to see photographs of the disease, I suggest that Scottish Government's website that has links to the guidance available on the Food & Environment Research Agency's site.

A programme of inspections, control and monitoring is underway throughout the UK and it is clear that vigilance and early treatment of outbreaks will aid the control of this new pest.  I recommend that all owners of woodland, especially those containing exotic plants, should take the time to familiarise themselves with this disease.  Owners of moorland need to be on their guard and I will aim to keep you up to date with further developments.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Annual Report 2010

The Annual Report has been published and circulated to all members of the Trust and a selected wider audience.  It is not available on line, but a list of contents is included on the Trust's website.

As the Report is produced each year, there is always a debate about what topics to include and what to leave out.  I try to achieve a balance between the relatively dull reporting of the Trust's year with guest articles, which generally make more interesting reading.  Rather than this eclectic mix of articles there has been a suggestion that the guest articles should focus on a particular theme each year.  An alternative might be to include a specialist section on a particular topic that could perhaps have articles from different viewpoints.

I would welcome any views about this.  As I get older, the Policemen get younger and the next Annual Report only seems to be days away.

Board members might like to comment on whether we should be placing the guest articles on the web - there has always been the concern that this dilutes the impact of the main publication.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Wales - Glastir - Common Land Element

Details of the Common Land Element have been announced.  This information is extensive but contains a useful summary of the overall scheme.

Glastir will replace the four existing agri-environment schemes from 1 January 2012.  It is a 5 year whole farm sustainable land management scheme available to farmers and land managers across Wales. The scheme pays for the delivery of specified environmental goods and services aimed at combating climate change, improving water management and maintaining and enhancing biodiversity. The scheme is also designed to deliver measurable outcomes at both a farm and landscape scale in a cost effective manner.

Glastir consists of three elements: 
  • All-Wales Element (AWE) - a whole farm land management scheme which is open to application from all farmers and land managers throughout Wales.
  • Targeted Element (TE) – a part farm scheme intended to deliver significant improvements to the environmental status of a range of habitats, species, soils and water that might also require changes to current agricultural practices.
  • Common Land Element - designed to provide support for the delivery of environmental benefits on common Land.
'It would be boring if it was easy'.  As more details of the scheme emerge, the number of hoops that have to be jumped through increases.  The Scottish Rural Development Programme has been described as a scheme for professionals, as it is difficult to understand unless you are dealing with it all the time.  In view of the need to satisfy the EU regulations, it is almost inevitable that Glastir has to go down the same route.  

Wouldn't it be nice if we could cut the bureaucracy; reduce the size of the army needed to set up, and monitor these schemes; and leave land managers to spend the time and effort doing what they do best.

Friday, 30 July 2010

From Farmers Weekly Interactive (FWi)

More than 295,000ha of England's uplands has been signed up for environmental management under the Uplands Entry Level Stewardship scheme.

Over 2,000 farmers have joined the scheme since the application period opened on 1 July, taking it more than half way towards Natural England's goal of covering 505,000ha of land covered with management agreements by next year.
The Uplands ELS, which replaces the Hill Farm Allowance, aims to reward farmers for mixing environmental stewardship, such as grassland management, restoring farm buildings with food production.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Wales - Young Entry Support Scheme

This strikes me as an excellent initiative.

Are we doing enough to encourage farming successors in other parts of the UK?

Monday, 19 July 2010

Heather Beetle Season

The time when heather beetle damage starts to be noticed is upon us again.  I am getting unconfirmed reports of damage from SW England and at Langholm.  After the damage at Langholm last year, a further outbreak is to be expected as the beetle's predators are unlikely to have built to a level to control the outbreak yet.

The results we collated for the 2009 season are still on the Trust's website and I will keep this page open and update it with 2010 reports as these become available.  This page also contains links to our guidance document and the review of Heather Beetle carried out by The University of Liverpool.

If you have an outbreak, or are worried that you might have one, please could you send me details.  If you would like to speak to me about the outbreak it would help to have some photographs to give me a feel for the level of damage.

If the damage is confirmed to be as a result of heather beetle, it would be very helpful if you could complete the survey form that can be downloaded from the website so that we can collate the data in the same format on receipt.  Please note that the Freepost address is no longer available and if returning the form by post, you will need to add a stamp.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Scotland: Bracken Control Event

I flagged this event previously but I can confirm that it will take place in Glenshee on Wednesday, 4th August.  Prof Rob Marrs and Roderick Robinson, a specialist in chemical control of bracken, will be speaking at the event.

We are now taking bookings and the booking form can be found as part of the flyer that is available from the Trust's website.

We are still working up the other two events that will form part of the SRDP funded Upland Managment; Rights & Wrongs project.  These events will cover heather restoration (October / November 2010) & muirburn (March 2011); I will let you know when more details are available.

Windfarms only giving half power

One for the windfarm sceptics.  See the Scotsman's article.

After sailing for two weeks in late June on the west coast of Scotland, I can vouch for the lack of wind during that period and the inactivity of many of the windfarms that can be seen from the sea.

Wind is an energy source that has been ignored until recently, but are we in danger of putting too many eggs in the wind farm basket?  Are we devoting enough resources to developing alternative sources of energy - wave, power, hydro or even nuclear?

Friday, 16 July 2010

Biodiversity: 10 Messages for 2010

The EU Environment Agency is publishing 10 messages for 2010 about biodiversity as part of the International Year of Biodiversity.  The messages are straightforward and easily digested if you have time for a skim through them.

Only seven of the ten are on the website at present, with the most important from my perspective relating to mountain ecosystems still to come.  With a bit of luck they will have all ten available by the end of the year!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Taken from the Rural Enterprise Solutions Knowledge Network Weekly Summary

Biochar is a fine-grained, highly porous material similar to charcoal, that is produced from the decomposition of plant-derived organic matter (biomass) in a low- or zero-oxygen environment (a process known as pyrolysis).  Biochar is already found in soils around the world as a consequence of naturally-occurring fires and, in the Amazon, as a deliberate result of its addition by past human populations (the so-called terra preta soils). These terra preta soils are famous for enhancing the year-on-year fertility of soils and are, nowadays, highly valued as composts. 

Contemporary interest in biochar is, first and foremost, driven by its potential role as a response to the problem of climate change. This is through the long-term storage of carbon in soils in a stable form. If untreated (i.e. non-pyrolysed) organic matter is added to soils, many of the nutrients contained therein are released. The carbon in the material is rapidly converted into carbon dioxide (‘mineralised’) and released to the atmosphere. Usually, all the carbon has disappeared as CO2 within 1 to 5 years, which is why adding organic matter to soils doesn’t help very much in efforts to limit climate change. By contrast, the carbon atoms in biochar molecules are strongly bound to one another, and this makes biochar resistant to attack and decomposition by micro-organisms. 

The full report can be downloaded from the Defra website.

In my view, this means that biochar could be useful stuff.  The next question is can it be produced as a product of heather burning?

Friday, 9 July 2010

Scotland - The Future of Single Farm Payments

For those wanting a quick summary of the progress of the Pack Inquiry and how the future looks, I suggest the latest bulletin provided by Lindsays WS which can be found here.  Other topics that may also be of interest are covered in the same bulletin.

Full details about the Pack Inquiry are available from the Scottish Government's website.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

CRC Uplands Inquiry Report

The Commission for Rural Communities published its inquiry report High Ground, high potential - a future for England’s Upland Communities.
The Commission has since fallen victim to the Government’s financial cutbacks and has been scrapped. However, its report is worthy of careful consideration. True, it is based on research carried out in England but I doubt that anyone from other parts of the UK would dispute that its findings are broadly relevant across the whole country.

Some of the more interesting findings include a comment about the lack of leadership or vision in the uplands and how the inquiry had revealed dissatisfaction with the disjointed and sometimes confusing nature of current policies. Policies were criticised as ‘top down’, sporadic, short-term interventions. The report summarises the policy weaknesses as: non-participatory, one-size-fits-all, fragmented, and uninformed.
Conclusions - summary of requirements:
1. A new integrated strategy for the uplands
2. Strengthening leadership and momentum
3. Empowering communities in the uplands
4. A new approach to funding (a better targeted CAP)
5. Developing markets for carbon and water
6. Securing the future for hill farmers
7. Encouraging enterprise in new green growth areas
8. Raising aspirations: supporting the development of communities
9. Improving broadband and mobile telephone communications
10. Planning to enable sustainable upland communities

The content of this comes does not come as a surprise; these findings could have been taken from our Annual Reports.  What is perhaps surprising is that these issues have been recognised and presented to government.  It remains to be seen if this report produces any action.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Culling Mountain Hares For Tick And Louping-Ill Virus In Control

Knowledge of Scotland has published a Policy Briefing about research that has just been published.   Note that there are links to more detailed information from the sidebar of this briefing.

In summary, the briefing states that the evidence used to support the culling of mountain hares to control ticks, louping ill and increase grouse densities is limited and equivocal.

The research comments on the estate in Morayshire where it was shown that the culling of hares did help with the reduction of tick numbers and the prevalence of louping ill.  However, this is seen as an exception as there were very few other hosts on this estate, particularly deer.   The point is not that hares do not carry ticks, but that the culling of hares in the presence of other hosts will not be effective.

Before embarking on any management programme, it is important to dispel myths and apply fact. This is particularly true of a tick reduction programme. Great attention to detail is required by everyone involved in the management of the area (for example, sporting and agricultural tenants, owners, keepers) for the duration of the project which is likely to be at least five years, and above all, funding is required for the duration. If these requirements cannot be satisfied, I suggest it would be better not to start with a control programme and to invest the funds elsewhere.

Based on my experience gained on similar schemes in different parts of the country, I would be pleased to help anybody who believes they have a tick and louping ill problem.