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.