Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Asulam available for Bracken Control in 2013

The decision has been made that Asulam products will be available for bracken control in 2013. 

The followers of the asulam for bracken control story will be aware that we have been waiting for a decision about the application for an Emergency Authorisation.  The Bracken Control Group met in York today, and it was during this meeting that the news of the approval was given.  This is the headline decision and there will be restrictions and other details that will need to be considered by those wanting to carry out bracken control this year.

Have a look at the Bracken Control website if you want more detail and sign up if you want to receive the newsletter that will keep you up to date with developments (there is a sign up option at the bottom of each newsletter which can be found on the News Page.

The story started in September 2011, with the decision by an EU committee not to renew the approval for the use of asulam for all purposes throughout the EU.  Asulam is an international product that has many uses and one of these is to control broadleaved weeds in food crops.  In reviewing asulam, the European Food Standards Agency decided that there was insufficient data to prove that asulam was safe.  In the UK, bracken control is the most important use for asulam but as an example of the law of unintended consequences, this use was caught in the blanket restrictions.

To cut this long story slightly short, I was asked to coordinate a Bracken Control Group and submit an application for an Emergency Authorisation that would apply across the UK, but only for bracken control.  The application was submitted in November, it was considered by a UK committee at the end of January and it has now been approved in Defra.  This is great news and a sign that the tide against bracken control is turning.  We can now implement plans for the 2013 season.

Monday, 25 February 2013

England: The Best Practice Burning Group

Burning not required!
When I drafted this post, I was passing over the top of the Pennines on the Settle – Carlisle railway returning from the 31st meeting of the Burning Group in Leeds.  a good place to reflect on the progress of the Group.  It is slightly daunting that the Trust has been a member of this Group since it was formed and some would argue that by the 31st meeting we should have sorted out everything to do with burning and more besides.  I wish!  

This Group is not alone in making slow progress.  Avid readers of this blog may remember that I commented on Professor Charles Gimingham’s file he gave me that covered the meetings of a Muirburn Group in Scotland in the late 1950s; the agenda for one of those meetings would not look out of place today.

The meeting on Friday covered a range of issues that are spinning off from Natural England’s activities and also the relatively new ‘kid on the block’, the Upland Stakeholder Forum (USF).  The key issues for Natural England are the Upland Evidence Review, which I will give separate mention to in the future, and proposed changes to the consenting for ‘minor works’ on upland SSSIs.  The consenting proposals were presented to the USF, earlier in the week.  I am part of the USF but missed the meeting as a result of a fatality on the west coast line that caused railway disorder.

One issue that has defied the efforts of the Burning Group to resolve is how you define blanket bog, or should it be blanket mire?  With people referring to different things it is no wonder that it can sometimes be difficult to reach agreement.  Discussion of this topic can quickly become nurdy but in summary:
  • There is no difficulty with blanket mire – deep peat, very wet and bog vegetation.
  •  Similarly, dry heath causes no problem - shallower peat / mineral soil, dry ground and dominated by dwarf shrub heath (heather, blaeberry etc.).
  • The fun starts with the stuff in the middle.  How do you classify:
    • dry heath plants on deep peat, or
    • wet ground that grows a good crop of heather.

As ever the problem is to come up with a one-size-fits-all definition for something that changes by the yard.  Once the definition is decided, there is a further problem in defining how best to manage the land to meet a variety of objectives.  Perhaps the only way to achieve this would be to break the definitions into different classes by the management they require.  Once again the extremes are easy to deal with: very wet blanket mire, requires little if any management; dry heath benefits from an appropriate grazing & burning regime. 

The stuff in the middle on deep peat could be split into three: land which could be restored easily to active blanket mire; land that could be restored with difficulty; and no chance land, which cannot be restored.

However defining land in this way introduces a whole heap of other issues to consider and a requirement for yet more definitions.  We may never get to a series of completely black and white definitions and indeed getting there may not be the answer.  The effort of engaging in dialogue maybe enough to confirm that watertight definitions cannot exist for a habitat that is infinitely changeable.  The Burning Group will keep chipping away at this and will hopefully make progress in the next 31 meetings. 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Re-birth of the Blog

My rather hit & miss blog output has become more miss than hit, of late.  Largely, I put this down to 2013 starting at a full gallop and getting faster since.  I have given myself some suitable castigation and reminded myself of the importance of telling people what The Heather Trust is up to. This is where the blog fits in, as our activity will have little impact, if no-one knows what we do.  In the event of an information vacuum the likely and justifiable assumption will be that the Trust is just bubbling along in the background.  I can assure you that on this side of the blog it feels very different.

Let me try to get a flow of blog posts together that will provide an indication of the high level of activity and provide an explanation for my lack of communication of late.  The challenge I have set myself is to add a post a day to this blog. I will not achieve this as too much else is going on, but I will see what I can do.  Not all the posts will be heavy-weight contributions, but I hope together they will be an interesting record of what we are up to.

I will continue to Tweet (@heathertrust) with each blog post so that the followers of that dynasty will be able to keep up with my efforts easily.

As ever I will welcome feedback; it is good to know that someone occasionally reads this collection of words, anecdotes and opinion and your comments will add interest to my efforts.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Peatland Restoration starts in Nidderdale

Photo: Ripon Gazette
A project to restore endangered peatlands on the moors above Nidderdale in North Yorkshire starts this week. More details are in the article published by the Ripon Gazette.

Yorkshire Water is funding the scheme to “re-wet” the peatlands above Scar House and Angram reservoirs near Lofthouse. The aim of the work, which will cost £1.2m, is to improve drinking water quality in the area.

The work will involve the restoration of heather cover using brash on over 1,000 hectares of land above Angram Reservoir.

Yorkshire Water claims that for every £1 spent restoring peatlands £3 of public money is saved, and for every £1 not spent on restoring peatlands the tax payer has to foot a £5 bill.