Monday, 26 April 2010

Scottish Estates Business Group - 22 April

I was pleased to attend this Group's AGM and to get a better feel for the issues that face landowners in Scotland.

The phrase 'ecosystem services' (or services that we get from nature) was bandied about but it remains to be seen how this can be translated into benefit for landowners.  In my view, landowners should not be shy.  The new focus on ecosystem services does not mean a change of approach just a change of packaging.  Landowners have been the custodians and providers of ecosystem services for centuries, but it is only now that someone has woken up to the importance and value of this.

This linked well to the theme of a later presentation give by Andrew Thin (Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage).  He suggested that landowners have an image problem that dates back to the Clearances in the eyes of many people.  Landowners need to move on from the tweed, dog & stick image and shout louder about the positive work they do.  He suggested that they also need to deal with the minority who threaten their image by acting against the public interest and he specifically mentioned raptors & access issues.  It was slightly punchy stuff but I think it is a message that landowners should take onboard.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Carbon in the Uplands Conference - 20-21 April

I was delighted with the way that this conference went and very grateful for the support of the sponsors (South Lanarkshire Council, SSE Renewables, RELU Sustainable Uplands project and Scottish Natural Heritage) and all those who gave presentations and supported the workshops. It was quite a tribe of people that were involved but the conference generated some interesting and valuable debate.  This will be summarised in a conference report that I will circulate to those who attended and all those who expressed an interest in the topic.
Various bits of information will be posted onto a page on The Heather Trust website as it becomes available and I will note key additions in this Blog.   Many people asked us for a list of attendees, and this is now available.

With the Southern Uplands Partnership, I will be considering holding further conferences in the Southern Uplands, but also I am aiming to develop the concept to allow further conferences and events to be developed from this pattern and I would be interested in suggestions of topics to cover and areas to visit.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

England - Moorland Burning Working Group - 19 April

I attended this 25th meeting of the Group and as always it produced some lively discussion.

Martyn Howat, the former uplands director for Natural England, had chaired all previous meetings, but following his retirement in December, a new chairman, Tim Hill, was introduced and this was his first meeting. It was something akin to being thrown into a cock pit!

One of the key issues for discussion at the meeting was how to select an appropriate burning rotation. The tension was highlighted between the perceived desire by conservation interests to adopt a longer term rotation compared with the pressures on moorland owners to maximise the production of their heather for grazing and grouse benefits, which moved them to favour a shorter rotation.  It was also noted that generally young heather regenerates better after burning than old heather. Young heather is able to regenerate from stems, whereas the old heather has to rely on regeneration from seed which takes longer and is less certain.

The Moorland Association will be producing a list of factors to be considered when determining the burning rotation and this will be discussed at the next meeting. Progress of the Group is slow, but reasonably certain, and there have been many achievements in the 25 meetings.

An interesting scientific comment came out of the meeting that "Pyro-diversity begets bio-diversity" and this provides weight to the argument that burning is good for many interests, not just grouse production.

 I presented the report that we have published recently "Heather And beetle: a review" (see post 14 April) and I presented the draft Guidance Note that I had prepared that is intended for theDefra website to support the Heather and Grass Burning Code.  Further revision will be needed but I hope we can get to a finished article soon.

The Group next meets in July at Bolton Abbey and the meeting will include a site visit. This is always an advantage as it allows practical issues to be considered as well as the theory.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Board Meeting - 16 April

The Board received the usual financial and activity updates but discussion of several key issues took place.  This included the impact of sheep ticks and how there might be benefit from encouraging funding to be made available through the National Rural Development Plans. If there was a contribution to the cost, land owners and managers might be more willing to establish tick mop schemes that would help to control tick numbers.  This proposal will be put to Scotland's Moorland Forum as part of the Upland Solutions project.

Another issue was the possibility of appointing ambassadors, or champions, in different parts of the country to be aware of and promote the work of the Trust within their group of contacts and areas of interest. This is something we will try to put in place in due course, but I would welcome any offers from people with an interest in our work.

The proposal to hold a series of conferences / events in different parts of the country was endorsed by the Board and the outcome of the Carbon in the Uplands conference held on 20-21 April would provide valuable experience of how these events can be run and the benefits that can accrue from them.

Initial proposals for a venue for the AGM were discussed and it is possible that this will be held in Scotland, in September / October.

A full report will be prepared for the Board in July, but the next meeting will not take place until just before the AGM.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Scotland - Community Right to Buy

A recent press release from the Scottish Government summarises the statistics about this measure. This is an extract from the press release:

"The Community right to buy in Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 provides the opportunity for community bodies representing rural areas in Scotland with less than 10,00 head of population to register an interest in and buy that registered land once it is offered for sale. It provides community Bodies with a pre-emptive right to buy the land in which they have registered a community interest.

Community bodies have so far registered an interest in land including fields, woodlands and a range of other assets such as buildings, such as churches, a school and a community interest. The right to buy requires a willing seller. A community may in fact register its community interest and that land not come up for sale. A registration continues for five years and community bodies have the opportunity to re-register that interest. The first communities to extend their interest will do so in late 2009.

Statistics on the community right to buy are:
  • There have been 113 registrations of which 79 (or 70.5 per cent) have been approved by Scottish Ministers
  • To date 23 applications have had the chance to go ahead and purchase land. Of these 7 have been successful and a further 2 were concluded outwith the Act. A further one is currently concluding the transfer of land
  • Of the applications approved by Ministers, the right to buy has been triggered on 27 applications (24 per cent)"
This was always going to be a controversial issue and perhaps the most important point is where the money to complete the purchases has come from.  Is this unnecessary social engineering using tax payers money or a useful means to achieve change and empower local communities?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Heather Beetle: a review

I am pleased to announce the publication of this report (Heather Beetle: a review) from the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, which I expect to be of widespread interest.

It remains my view that the threat to heather posed by this beetle is under-estimated.  The Trust commissioned this review to bring together the existing knowledge about this pest of heather.

We need to plug the gaps in our knowledge about the drivers of the heather beetle population and what are the causes of the large scale population blooms.  Next, we need to know how to manage heather to reduce the risk of a heather beetle outbreak in the first place, and then how to best manage the heather to regenerate it after a large scale attack.

There is no doubt that the beetle is present on virtually all heather moorland, but it is when the population blooms to cause a large scale outbreak that it starts to cause significant damage and economic loss that can be so devastating to all interests in heather moorland. We do not know what causes this.

I am grateful to the author Angus Rosenburgh, and to our President, Prof Rob Marrs, who supervised the work, for producing such a useful report.  It serves to provide a useful summary of our knowledge but it also highlights the gaps, which I will continue to campaign to fill.

Heather beetle is seen as a low grade threat to heather moorland in many quarters, but with the uncertainties surrounding the effects that climate change will have on moorland ecosystems, can we afford this complacency?  Looking over a moor that has suffered a large scale attack, such as Langholm Moor in 2009, the risk to heather, and all the species that depend on it, seems to be much greater.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Land Use Futures: Making the most of land in the 21st century

The final report from the Foresight Land Use futures Project has been published.  It is a meaty read but covers a lot of ground that is relevant to the debate about future land use that includes moorland and upland areas of the UK.

Phytophthora Ramorum / Kernoviae

You will be forgiven if your eyes glaze over at the title of this post. (For pronunciation try 'fytoffthora').   However, potentially this disease, also called Sudden Oak Death, could be a major threat to heathland habitats.  Fera ( The Food and Environment Research Agency)  provides more information about the disease and a Fact sheet on its website.

A Review Paper has just been published which provides a summary of the activity in England and Wales since the disease was first identified in Cornwall in 2002. Principally, the disease outbreaks have been confined to woodlands, nurseries and ornamental gardens, such as run by the National Trust, but there have also been some worrying outbreaks in the wild (261 cases out of 904 reported), and it appears likely that   Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillis can act as a host for the disease.    For obvious reasons, it is this latter issue that is focusing my attention.

The other main host is Rhododendron and control has involved the eradication of Rhododendron from the disease site and the surrounding area.  This in itself can have some benefits, but the large areas of wild Rhododendron, particularly on the west coast of Scotland, could prove to be a major harbour for this disease, if it cuts loose.

There is not much to be done at the moment, but this is an issue to monitor.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Tick Prevention Week: 12-18 April 2010

This event is organised by Borreliosis and Associated Diseases Awareness UK (BADA-UK) and more details can be found on their website.

The lack of awareness about tick borne diseases is a major threat to human health.  Will it take a 'celebrity' to go down with Lyme disease before funds are allocated to promote this health risk?

Monday, 5 April 2010

England's Peatlands: Carbon storage and greenhouse gases

Natural England has published a report (NE257) England's Peatlands: Carbon storage and greenhouse gases - a copy can be downloaded from the Natural England website.

The Report provides useful information & background, it is rather one sided, amongst other things:
  • it makes no reference to the benefits for other species of grouse moor management
  • it appears to discredit the Heather & Grass Burning Regulations and Code
  • management input appears to be viewed as completely negative
  • it does not address wildfire issues, the risks associated with rank vegetation or the risk reduction benefits offered by prescribed burning
  • there is no reference to the need to work with land owners and managers, apart from the still rather confusing message about the potential of carbon trading to provide income
  • it does not address the economic importance of the uplands & the support they provide for communities
There is scope to use this Report as a basis for discussion and I am hoping that the heather burning issues can be discussed at the next meeting of the Moorland Burning Working Group that takes place later this month.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Country Market & Sporting Sale

With thanks to all our donors, supporters and promoters, I am delighted to report that the Catalogue for this year's Sale has now been published. As always, we have a vast range of lots to suit every budget and interest and I hope that those who receive a catalogue will enjoy reading it.  If you have not received one but would like to see it, please contact us and I will be delighted to send you a copy, but alternatively it is available on the website as a download.

We are happy to receive Bids by any means and the closing date is 12 noon on Friday, 7 May.