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.