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.