Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Scotland's Moorland Forum - Upland Solutions

In my capacity as Secretary and now Director of Scotland's Moorland Forum, I provided a lot of the input to this project, from development of the concept to delivery of the final report.  It has been a lot of work, and much of this has been carried out over and above the work that has been funded through the Forum.  Therefore, I have to say that it is a valuable piece of work that has drawn some interesting conclusions.  I am not going to repeat the description of the project and the conclusions in this blog, but I recommend that anyone with an interest in the management of the uplands should at least take a look at the short Summary Report and have a read of the article published in the Press & Journal, yesterday, that provides a good overview.  If this information whets the appetite, there is plenty more reading material available!

For the reports, press releases and press articles, see the website.

Discussions will soon be taking place about how to apply the lessons learned and the conclusions drawn.  The concept of a task force is appealing as a way for the Forum to provide practical benefit over and above the exchange of information in meeting rooms, but we would need to find a way to fund this.  

The Importance of Peatlands

Building on a briefing I prepared for Scotland's Moorland Forum, I wrote an article for Scotland's 2020 Climate Group that has been published on the group's website.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Annual Report 2011

The Heather Trust's Annual Report was published yesterday, 11 August 2011, and circulated to all members of the Trust and some selected supporters.  In addition, Members receive a Supplement that provides additional information such as notification of the AGM and an extract from last years accounts.

As well as information about the work of the Trust, the Report contains 13 articles by guest authors covering a wide range of issues that relate to the work of the Trust.  With the author's permission,some of these articles will be made available on the Trust's website later in the year.  However, if you want to be at the cutting edge of opinion, a £40 subscription to the Trust will allow you to get this year's Report earlier and future copies as the Report is published.

See the Trust's website for the Contents List and details of how to join the Trust.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Spot the Heather Beetle Damage

Have you seen heather that looks like this?  If so you have probably been looking at heather that has been damaged by a heather beetle attack.  This can affect heather at different scales, from parts of plants to whole landscapes, and the foxy-red colour is the result of an attack by the beetle larvae this year.  Heather that was damaged or killed in previous years looks grey and is often inter-mingled with this year's damage.

If you would like to know more about this pest of heather, look no further than the Trust's website.

More on Upland Tracks

Tim Baynes has entered the debate and provides this view from Scottish Land & Estates:

The maintenance and upgrading of hill tracks is an important matter for upland management and deserves to be considered carefully.  Scottish Land & Estates have been working on this issue for many years, providing a briefing for MSPs in last year's Parliamentary debate and their response to the recent Permitted Development Rights consultation can be read in full here.

New road construction will always look unsightly for a year or two after it is done but if carried out according to SNH's Code of Practice, can heal over remarkably quickly.  Given the importance of these tracks for employee safety, wildlife management, public access, environmental protection and not
least, bird monitoring by RSPB staff, the presumption is that maintenance and upgrading to best practice standards should be facilitated, not unduly restricted, under Permitted Development Rights in all but the most sensitive of areas.  Best practice is the key and an excellent set of guidelines have
been agreed by SNH working with the industry and can be found here.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

In praise of grouse shooting

See the article published by the Yorkshire Post, yesterday, which has video footage from Spaunton Moor in North Yorkshire and interviews with the headkeeper, George Thompson, and the grouse counter, Steve Smith.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Upland Tracks

On his Twitter account, Stuart Housden has expressed concern about the number of tracks in heather ground in view from the A9 and suggested that controls are required (see @StuartHousden).  However, is there a counter argument that, like cranes in towns, tracks are a sign of activity and investment that will provide some management input that will benefit all upland birds?

I would agree with him completely that badly constructed tracks are a disaster, and I would also support the view that tracks are not needed or desirable everywhere, but I would shy away from there being a presumption that all upland tracks are bad.  I think we could agree that good quality, balanced management input to heather ground is beneficial, and I would suggest that facilitating this by the creation of well constructed tracks should not be opposed as a matter of course.  In addition to sporting activities, tracks also allow access for recreation, surveying, monitoring, farming and wildfire management.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Natural England on Blanket Bog

Blanket Bog has been identified by NE as their habitat of the month.  See their website for details about this important habitat.

Recognition of the importance of this habitat as a store of carbon and for capturing carbon from the atmosphere is increasing.  We are involved in the discussions that are taking place about how this interest can be developed into a source of income to landowners & managers.

High ground, high potential : a future for England’s upland communities – Next Steps

Update from the Commission for Rural Communities (see the CRC August Newsletter):

"The aim of our Inquiry into the uplands was ‘to identify and evaluate the drivers of change in upland communities, and to develop policy recommendations to enable and equip them to move towards more secure, economically prosperous and sustainable futures’. The full report of this work can be found here, with a short summary here.

A number of our Commissioners are working with various partners to assess the Government’s response to our recommendations, and are maintaining regular dialogue with Defra’s Rural Communities Policy Unit to ensure our recommendations are progressed."

See the earlier Blog post (6 July 2010) that announced the launch of this important report.  It only covers England but I think there are many lessons for the other parts of the UK within it.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Scotland: Out of Season Muirburn

The licensing scheme for out of season muirburn was introduced by the Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011.  The details of how to apply and the application form are now available on the SNH website.

The purposes for which an application may be made are defined by the legislation:

  1. conserving, restoring, enhancing or managing the natural environment;
  2. research; or
  3. public safety
This is a useful step forward.  Further guidance about the other muirburn provisions introduced by the Act will be produced by the Scottish Government, before the start of the muirburn season on 1 October - the Muirburn Group of Scotland's Moorland Forum will be advising on this. 

Phytophthora diseases

I continue to be concerned about the spread of Phytophthora - see the earlier Posts on this Blog.  It has been found in various parts of Scotland (e.g. Argyll), but at present it does seem to be confined to the wetter, western side of the country.

It has been shown to affect bilberry (win berry in Wales, blueberry in Scotland), and also heather, but not on a large scale.  However, this does not mean that this will not happen.

The Fera website is about the best source of information.  The website includes a link to some research about the susceptibility of heathland species.  Table 6 shows that of the three heathers, Ling Calluna vulgaris is the only one rated as slightly susceptible to phytophthora, but Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus is highly susceptible.

It is very much a case of watching and waiting and hoping that the phytophthoras do not get a hold of heather.

Heather & Grazing

Dealing with questions about the interaction between heather & grazing is an issue that keeps me busy.  So often the balance is all wrong, with the level of grazing not matched to the amount of dry matter available.  

Reliance on grazing in old heather is dangerous - the impact of grazing on an ageing heather resource is often too apparent.   The old heather has few stems / unit area and limited growth, and as a result, an increasing percentage of the annual increment is removed.  This causes the heather to die back and open space appears between the plants.  Young seedlings attempt to grow in the gaps but their high palatability is fatal.  The end result is that the heather becomes completely threadbare, and eventually dies out with or without a sniff of heather beetle, leaving the way open for different vegetation.  

The farmers will argue that the stocking rate is much less than it used to be so it is not their problem.  This is correct to an extent but it misses the point that carrying capacity is linked to food production and sick heather has little production potential.  

Burning properly, following best practice guidance, to introduce vigorous, high density areas of young heather is needed to reverse this trend.  This would produce more grazing dry matter, a greater species diversity to satisfy conservation interests, better sporting potential, and secure heather in the landscape.  It is difficult to see a downside but this approach is being resisted by the conservation agencies in many parts of the UK.

Am I missing something?