Monday, 28 March 2011

England: Defra Uplands Policy Review

The key issues from this review can be summarised:

  • A guarantee that 100% of hill farmers eligible to enter Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (UELS) - worth up to £6m
  • Creation of an “Uplands Theme” to provide targeted support to upland areas
  • A commitment to reduce the burden of unnecessary red tape
  • A new Rural Community Broadband Fund - worth up to £20m
  • consultation on whether the legislation for National Parks needs to better reflect their role in facilitating sustainable development
All good stuff but does it go far enough and will it make a difference to hill farm businesses?

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Uplands: Neglect them at our peril

If you would like to see an example of how I spend my quiet evenings at home, have a look at this article that has been published by the RICS as part of their Rural eNews service and sent to all Rural Chartered Surveyors.

As always, I would welcome any comments.  Do you think there is an adequate public awareness of the role played by the uplands in maintaining natural services and if not how can we improve matters?

Monday, 21 March 2011

England: Farming in the Uplands - EFRA Report

I mentioned the launch of the Select Committee report in my post on 17 February, but I would like to draw your attention to the extract below, taken from page 73, and the highlighted sentence.  Is this really what EFRA believes?  What about all the burning, or swaling, that takes place on the south west moors?   I would be very surprised if burning for agricultural purposes was so insignificant it could be dismissed.  I hope that this is an aberration and that our policy makers have a clear overview of how our moors are managed.  If not, I look forward to a call (and perhaps some consultancy work!).

32. Burning is used on heather moorland and acid grasslands and can be successful in promoting heather regeneration. However, if done on too wide a scale or too frequently it can negatively impact upon some species and other ecosystem services such as soil carbon storage and water quality. Burning can also favour some species to the detriment of others. It can also lead to an increase in water pollution through run-off of sediment. Burning on peatland13 has been used (mostly in Scotland) as a means of improving vegetation for sheep grazing. In England burning of peatland is almost exclusively limited to managing the moorland for grouse. Because of the complexity of burning, localised approaches drawing on sound evidence and expert advice are very important.

England: Grouse Moor Management Praised

Helen Phillips & Edward Bromet

I was pleased to attend a meeting on the Weardale Estate in Co Durham on 16 March, where the progress with the management of moorland, predominantly for grouse, in Northern England was publicly acknowledged.  It was great to hear some good news with Helen Phillips, the Chief Executive of Natural England, openly praising grouse moor management and the positive views being reciprocated by Edward Bromet, the Chairman of the Moorland Association (MA).  The MA's pivotal role in getting 98.8% of moorland in the North East Region of England into 'favourable' or 'unfavourable improving' was applauded and acknowledged.  

If you would like to know more:
This public acknowledgement of the value of grouse moor management in improving and maintaining moorland in good condition is welcome.  We need to keep reminding ourselves of the role of grouse moor management in keeping our moorlands in vibrant condition for the overall benefit from the services that well managed moorland provides.  Management for grouse is not the only way to achieve this result, but it is very significant and is self-financing.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Asulam: The loss of effective bracken control?

There has been a lot of discussion about Asulam recently.  This chemical is the active ingredient of Asulox, which is the only bracken control agent that can be applied from a helicopter, and it is up for re-registration within the EU system. 
The debate surrounding the re-registration of this product is too complex to go into in detail here, but the issue to be aware of is that there is a threat to the continued availability of Asulam for bracken control.  As the only chemical licensed for aerial application, its loss would be catastrophic.
The snappily named Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health is the EU organisation that will decide the future of Asulam.  The Committee met on 11 March and could have decided not to allow re-registration at that meeting, but due to a blocking minority on the Committee a discussion was postponed until the next meeting on 4-5 May.
Many people have made representations to Defra and into the EU.  I telephoned contacts in England, Wales & Scotland and found universal support for the continued availability of Asulam.  Prof Rob Marrs, the Trust’s President, is also the Chairman of the International Bracken Group and with Rob I produced a statement in support of Asulam that was circulated widely, and The Daily Telegraph printed a modified version of this statement in the Letters page on 14 March.  Other press coverage: Farmers Guardian, Scottish Farmer, The Scotsman, and NFUOnline.
Many people are campaigning for the continued availability of Asulam and if this is a subject as dear to your heart as it is to mine, please will you make every effort to draw attention to this issue.  Without Asulam, the ability to control bracken in the uplands will, to all intents and purposes, disappear.  Grazing area will be lost, hitting the economics of uplands farming; the landscape will suffer, as a bracken monoculture will encroach into more diverse areas; biodiversity in the uplands will be reduced and the loss of heather is likely to accelerate; with the bracken the favoured habitat for sheep ticks will expand, and with it the associated prevalence of human, livestock and bird diseases; and water quality is likely to be affected.  There is not much in favour of an expansion of bracken coverage.  As a very significant side effect of the loss of Asulam, the aerial spraying companies would go out of business, resulting in a loss of any aerial spraying capacity in the country.
Currently we are in limbo.  We have a window of opportunity to raise the profile of this issue and please will you help in whatever way possible.  If the decision goes against Asulam, the current registration would expire in September 2012, and after that we will be faced with trying to control bracken using ground based equipment, or more likely on the more difficult terrain, leaving bracken to its own devices.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Scotland: Getting the best from our land - a land use strategy

The Land Use Strategy for Scotland has been laid before parliament.  See the Moorland Forum's Blog for more details.

Wildfire 2011

Bookings are now being accepted for this event.  See the website for details. 

At the previous event, Wildfire 2009, over 150 delegates heard about the latest techniques, best practice and research relating to the prevention and suppression of wildfire in the UK and Ireland.

Wales: Heather & Grass Burning

The current Heather and grass burning season in Wales will end in upland areas on 31 March and ended elsewhere on 15 March.  Upland areas are defined as land in the Severely Disadvantaged Area or Less Favoured Area.

In Wales, there is a requirement to complete a Burning Management Plan for all proposed fires.  Information about the legal requirements and guidance on safe burning can be found in the Heather and Grass Burning Code for Wales.  A copy, together with the Burning Management Plan Template, can be downloaded from the Welsh Assembly Government’s website.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone who is burning in Wales about how they view the Heather & Grass Burning Code and the Burning Plan Template.  Is the system working well or would some changes improve the system. 

Thursday, 10 March 2011

England: Defra Uplands Policy Review launched

This review was launched today and no doubt there will be much comment about this in the near future.  For the moment, I draw your attention to this important document and provide links to the key documents and the early responses from the CLA quoted by Farmer's Weekly.

For my own part, I would have liked to have seen the appointment of someone at Ministerial level to promote the needs of the uplands in the long-term.  Many of the other good ideas that came out of last year's CRC Report do not appear to have found favour.

At first sight, this review focuses on the provision of broadband, and while this is important and will be very welcome, broadband on its own will not meet the needs of the upland communities.  It is like suggesting that diversification will solve everyone's problems - so much depends on other factors.

Defra News Release
Defra website
Defra Uplands Policy Review - document
Farmer's Weekly commenting on CLA response

What do you think?  The comment facility is awaiting your words!