Friday, 29 March 2013

Wildfire risk high in NW Scotland

Photo: Greg Little
Many areas are still struggling to recover from snow drifts but according to a BBC report, north-west Scotland escaped the snow and the dry conditions have resulted in a spate of wildfires.

The main muirburn season extends until 15 April, but anyone planning muirburn in NW Scotland is advised to exercise great caution.  Conditions may be too dry and it would be difficult or impossible to control a fire after it has started.

Better Outcomes on Upland Commons

Photo: National Centre for the Uplands
I was pleased to have been invited to support a new initiative covering Upland Commons, that has been established following concerns raised by HRH The Prince of Wales.

The recently established National Centre for the Uplands, which is based at Newton Rigg College in Penrith, has established a partnership of organisations to provide input to the work.  The main focus of the initiative will be to establish how best to combine the many and various interests in upland commons. The work will  include a consideration of: the practical and business needs of farmers (for example in sheep stocking levels), improvements to water retention and quality, maintenance of the cultural landscape and how to accommodate public access.

I was present at a launch meeting in Sedbergh, yesterday, that Prince Charles attended, and there was a good discussion amongst the organisations represented at the meeting about how the initiative can best achieve its objectives.

This work plays very much to The Heather Trust's agenda of seeking to develop cross-sector consensus to improve the management of moorland and upland areas, while embracing the views of a large range of organisations that have potentially conflicting requirements. However, as we have found in many other projects, to allow progress to be made all views must be respected and areas of agreement identified.  I am sure we will find that it will be possible to reach agreement on about 90% of the issues, but it will be important not to let the remaining 10% derail progress.

The initiative will be considering case studies from a range of upland commons across England looking for a range of aspirations, circumstances, problems and existing progress. I think it will be interesting to look at places where partnership working has been established, and compare this with areas where this has yet to be achieved. The work I co-ordinated for Scotland's Moorland Forum for the Upland Solutions project has similarities and it is possible that the report from this work, which was published in June 2011, will be considered as part of this initiative.  I think the approach of identifying barriers to progress could be a relevant approach for the case studies.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

IUCN UK Peatland Programme Conference Sept 2013

Natural England: Upland Evidence Review

The Upland Evidence Review organised by Natural England has been considering five topics:
  • The impacts of tracks on the integrity and hydrological function of blanket peat
  • Restoration of degraded blanket bog
  • The effects of managed burning on upland peatland biodiversity, carbon and water
  • Upland Hay Meadows: What management regimes maintain the diversity of meadow flora and populations of breeding birds?
  • Impact of moorland grazing and stocking rates
These are pretty meaty topics and it is clear that Natural England, and everyone who has supported the process, has been amazed by the amount of work involved.  I have been part of the Review Group that considered tracks, and I feel that I got off lightly when compared with the amount of work involved with some of the other topics.

I attended a workshop in York, yesterday, which was the first opportunity for Natural England to present the reports to those who have contributed to them. Some are nearly complete (the Tracks report is in this category!) but others still need a lot of work.

I was heartened by the approach that is being adopted. There was talk about  the need for: an integrated approach to upland management, flexibility, matching prescriptions to the needs of the land and there was an acceptance that some of the advice that has been provided by NE in the past may not have been supported by evidence. These are difficult steps for any organisation to make, and Natural England are to be commended for even considering them.

For me, the next steps are the most interesting: taking the findings from the Review Reports and feeding them into a review of Natural England's advice and policy.  This is when the effort that has gone into preparing the reports will start to make a difference on the ground. We should not forget that this is what matters and where the effort will be judged.

The process to feed the Reports into Advice & Policy will be taking place through 2013 and I will be watching closely, while supporting the work, to see what changes are introduced.  This will involve a different team within Natural England and meanwhile the Evidence Team will be working on the next round of Evidence Reviews.  There is even talk of including a review of heather beetle!  Watch this space!

Assistance for Arran & Argyll - tracked vehicles

I relay a message from Teresa Dougall from Scottish Land & Estates, which needs no explanation:

Gregor Caldwell of the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID) Ayr office telephoned this morning asking us for help with the emergency situation in Arran and Argyll. This request has come direct from Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, and Drew Sloan, Chief Agricultural Officer. As you will by now have seen on the national and regional news, drifting snow on Arran and Argyll has cut off sheep and farmers are unable to access the hills.

Although some Local Authority roads are now open, there are real access problems to farms and hills. The local farmers have identified a need for ATV tracked vehicles and possibly snow bikes to take feeding out to stranded animals on hills but all of the available machines seem to be in service with the power companies.

A Scottish Government stakeholder group is to be convened from Edinburgh and Scottish Land & Estates will have an involvement in this – this will be to consider the details, logistics and costs of the operation. But, in the meantime, we need to identify members with available vehicles at short notice to help.

If you have an available vehicle, please email me on as soon as possible or telephone 01292 267074.

Your assistance would be appreciated.

Kind regards


Monday, 25 March 2013

Sheep Ticks and the Tick Bite Prevention Week

To coincide with the Tick Bite Prevention Week, 24-30 March 2013, the Trust has published its latest Members' Briefing that covers Sheep Ticks.

Sheep ticks are a curse on ground-nesting moorland birds, on wild moorland animals and on domestic livestock but more significantly the diseases they carry are a threat to humans, and in the UK, this is principally from Lyme Disease.

The Brucellosis and Associated Diseases Awareness-UK (BADA-UK to their friends) has organised their annual Tick Bite Prevention Week.  For more information, see the announcement that BADA-UK has circulated.  Wendy Fox is the chairman of BADA-UK and she is partially sighted and paralysed from the waist down as a result of Lyme disease.  This is not a disease that happens elsewhere, it is here in the UK, now.

Bracken litter is ideal habitat for sheep ticks and this explains my direct interest in the subject.  Many bracken beds are located beside footpaths, which give ticks easy access to humans, and many domestic stock and wild animals use these same beds for shelter, access and grazing.  An adult red deer can carry 5,000 sheep ticks!

Bracken control reduces the amount of tick-favourable habitat and therefore the threat from the diseases they carry.  The reprieve for asulam, during 2013 at least, will allow important bracken control programmes to continue and even allow new ones to start.

Against this background, the Tick Bite Prevention Week is timely and worthy of support.  For details of funraising for BADA-UK see the Wagathon post, below.

Moorland Fire Fighting Insurance

It may seem to be rather strange to be thinking about fire, and insurance for the damage it can cause, while those parts of the country that are not covered in snow are being deluged under heavy rain.  However, at this time of year, I am very conscious that conditions can change quickly, and soggy conditions can soon change to produce vegetation that is too dry to burn safely.

Lycetts insurance brokers can provide moorland fire fighting insurance cover and they will donate 10% of the premium payable  for cover taken out by members of the Trust. 

It this is of interest, there is a link on the Reading Room page of the HT website that takes you to the details of the scheme on the Lycetts website.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Country Market & Sporting Sale 2013 is live!

This year's Country Market & Sporting Sale is now live online and the bidding has started.  Click on the logo to go straight to the auction website.  This tells you all about the Sale, provides details of all the Lots, tells you how to bid and explains why it is important to the Trust.

It is also a lot of fun for us to be doing something different, although the face and voice of the Sale, Clara Jackson, will be less convinced about the fun side today, as she has been slaving to get everything ready for you.  Please feel free to reward her efforts by entering into the spirit of the Sale and bidding frantically for the Lots.

There is a newsletter that you can circulate to your friends (and enemies?!). Needless to say, we will provide plenty of reminders as the clock ticks down to the close of the Sale at 12 noon on Friday, 3rd May. Happy bidding!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Scotland’s Moorland Forum

As Director of the Forum, this is a major consumer of my time and effort but it defines the Trust’s work in Scotland and beyond.  The end of the current financial year sees the transition from a fully funded operation to a partially funded one, as SNH ease back their funding for the Forum.  Contrary to what you might think, I welcome this. 

I have been walking the boards for the last 12 months leading up to this change to promote the work of the Forum and its unique selling points and to argue the case for the Forum to be commissioned to carry out projects for the Government, its agencies  and anyone seeking a cross-sector, independent consultancy.

It was anyone’s guess whether this would yield any results, but I was keen to avoid the Forum’s activity retreating in line with the reduction of the SNH funding.  It is far too early to draw any conclusions but the Forum’s order book is full, if not overflowing, and I am now having to put my money where my mouth has only been so far to make sure we deliver on our promises.  Year-end underspend in the government agencies is a valuable resource towards the end of the financial year, but this year it has been like buses, all coming at once.

To provide an indication of the range of interest, I am setting up projects for: SNH, SEPA, Forest Enterprise, and Scottish Water and for the Scottish Government, I have started the review process for the Muirburn Code.

From the Trust’s point of view, it could be argued that this body of work furthers the cause of the Moorland Forum, but as the Trust is closely linked to the Forum and all the activity, I am comfortable that our involvement with the Forum serves to raise the profile of the Trust in Scotland, and throughout the UK.  See the Moorland Forum website for more information about the Forum's activity.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Scotland: Snaring

 I quote from a press release issued by GWCT today:
"Building on the success of training courses so far, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is urging all those who use snares for agricultural and wildlife management to be fully trained and be in possession of the required certificate and user ID number before 1st April 2013."

This is a timely reminder to all those in Scotland who use snares for controlling rabbits & foxes to get registered.  Remember, it will be illegal to set a snare on or after 1st April unless it has the operator's ID number attached.

The press release gives details of training courses and the Snaring Leaflet has more background information.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Members' Briefing: Bracken

I make no apologies for having given a lot of coverage in this Blog of the efforts to make asulam available for bracken control in 2013 - I consider it to be a very important upland management issue.  

It is inevitable that this coverage will skew opinion and there is a danger of losing sight of other bracken issues such as why the plant it is special, and other control techniques that do not involve chemical treatment (the presentation I gave to the Robson meeting on 7 March 2013 has more detail about other control techniques).

In an attempt to redress the balance and provide other information about bracken, we have prepared a Members' Briefing and this is available on the website to members and visitors alike from the Reading Room page.  

I hope out of a 'sense of common decency' that if a non-member gains value from this or other Briefings that they will give serious consideration to rectifying their lapse.  All are welcome and joining the Trust confers membership of an influential and distinguished band of people. 

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Wales: Single Body - Natural Resources Wales

The creation of a single body in Wales is nearing completion to bring together the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency Wales, and the Forestry Commission Wales . 

The single body will be called Natural Resources Wales and it comes into full existence from 1 April 2013.

The Welsh Government website has a useful summary of the background to the decision to form a single body and much more information.

I hope that we can develop and maintain links to this body as it finds its feet.  There will be much that can be shared with other parts of the UK.  It may just be me, but I feel that Wales has become more introverted of late, and I would welcome some additional involvement.  There are large upland areas that would benefit from an external, independent view that the Heather Trust could provide.

Asulam - the word gets out

Thanks go to everyone who has helped to circulate the news that asulam will be available for bracken control during 2013.  I am still waiting for the finer details on the pesticide label that will define how asulam can be used this year and I will circulate the information as soon as it is available.

The Bracken Control Group is planning to issue a briefing to the reviewing the rural development programmes within the UK in an effort to make sure the funding continues to be available for bracken control under the reviewed agri-environment schemes.  There is thought to be a strong link between the availability of grant funding and the amount of bracken control that gets carried out.

As an indication of the amount of cover that has been achieved, these are links to articles I have picked up.  I expect that there will have been many further announcement within Newsletters and in-house publications.

The Scotsman
The Herald, Scotland
NFU Scotland
Countryside Alliance
Farmers Guardian
Daily Post, North Wales
Ripon Gazette
NFU Cymru News
Berwick Advertiser

Although this coverage is good, it is important that every effort is still made to inform end-users that asulam will be available in 2013, as it is important than anyone wanting to control bracken using asulam, either as part of an existing or a new control programme, should contact their distributor or bracken control contractor as soon as possible.

So far so good, but we have still got some way to go before we can secure the future of asulam for bracken control.  Work on the application for an Emergency Authorisation for 2014 starts soon!

There is more information on the Bracken Control website.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Tackling Ticks - Wagathon for BADA-UK

Why am I interested in sheep ticks?  Sheep ticks love bracken litter and the diseases that ticks carry, particularly Louping Ill, are a threat to moorland birds, sheep and cattle and as a result, to the proper management of our upland areas.

BADA-UK campaigns about the human diseases carried by ticks, principally Lyme disease, but also raises the awareness of the impact that ticks can have.  See the organisation's Newsletter that gives more information about the Wagathon, or their website.

Watch out for our Members' Briefing about Sheep Ticks that will be published soon.

England & Wales: Farming Delivers for the hills and uplands

I recommend this publication to anyone interested in upland farming.  The publication can be found on the NFU website and it was launched by the NFU at their conference earlier this year.  It has been produced by and for hill farmers in the uplands of England and Wales and it provides a useful summary of the invaluable role played by agriculture in managing our uplands:

  • for the production of food, 
  • for economic benefit, 
  • for the community and heritage, 
  • for the environment, and 
  • for climate and energy.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Advertise with The Heather Trust

One aspect of the new website that might be of interest is that we are planning to carry some advertising on the Home page (in place of the Curlew).  I would be delighted to discuss 'very competitive' rates with any of our supporting organisations that might be interested.

We must not forget that our new, shiny website will be twinned with the dedicated site that carries the Country Market & Sporting Sale.  This will be active for 2 months from 22nd March.  As ever, we have promoted the Sale far and wide, and I am anticipating even more activity on this Site than we generated last year - it will be busy.  

We will be ‘generous’ with anyone who wants to take out an advertisement on both sites.  Clara Jackson, the face and voice of the Sale, has all the details in the office.  Use the comment facility to get in touch.

Members’ Briefings - Heather Beetle

Adult Heather Beetle

The launch of our new website provides some evidence of my efforts to improve the service the Trust provides for its members. At the same time as launching the website, we published the first of what will become a series of Members’ Briefings.

This first briefing addresses Heather Beetle and is an updated version of the information we have been promoting, for some time.  Heather Beetle is one of the Trust's Priority Issues and this briefing provides a stand-alone summary of the information that is available in the dedicated section of the website.  

The aim of these briefings is to provide an easily digestible summary of the latest information and the Briefings will be made available through the Reading Room section of the website for anyone who wants to read them.

I would welcome comments on this approach, and on the individual Briefings as they are published. We have briefings on Phytophthora plant diseases, Bracken Control and Sheep Ticks in an advanced stage of preparation and will be adding these to the website over the next few weeks. I would also welcome suggestions for any additional topics to cover.

I am grateful to Patrick Laurie for his help in drafting and presenting these Briefings.  

Please use the Comment facility below to let me have any thoughts or feedback - is is an under-exploited facility!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Asulam and the Peak District

I had an interesting excursion south, at the end of last week.

Aerial bracken control
The first stop was to give a presentation about the work of the Bracken Control Group (BCG) and the successful Emergency Authorisation application for asulam. My presentation formed part of The Robson Meeting that took place at St Ives in Cambridgeshire. It was an odd part of the country for me to be in, and I had to started my presentation by asking delegates to imagine some hills to provide an appropriate context.  The scenery outside was completely flat - the so called 'big sky country'.  It was a useful opportunity to spread the word about the work of the BCG in the hope that other groups can benefit from our experience.  See the bracken control website for a copy of the presentation and other bracken information.

Geoff Eyre + restored heather
On the way back, Patrick Laurie joined me and we made two stops in the Peak District. The first was to spend some time with Geoff Eyre to catch up with the progress of his groundbreaking work on heather restoration. His energy and enthusiasm is infectious. Some people may be worried about the level of intervention that he advocates, but there is no doubting the success of his methods and his ability to put heather back where it has been lost.

The second stop was to meet Chris Dean, the Project Manager of the Moors for the Future (MFF) project.  Chris started work for the MFF project shortly after I started at the Trust, and we have kept in contact throughout.  It was a useful discussion and I hope that I can find a way to support the desire of the MFF project to develop stronger links with landowners and land managers in the Peak District. One suggestion is that we should help to run a series of events to provide briefings on topical subjects such as: bracken control, sheep ticks, heather management (cutting and/or burning), plant diseases (including phytophthora species) and possibly a discussion to cover peatland management.  If this idea develops, I would hope to involve other organisations so that we can provide an even-handed view of moorland management issues.  Suggestions would be welcome from anybody in the Peak District about topics that we should consider.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Muirburn training in Lanarkshire - 15 March 2013

Natural England’s Uplands Evidence Review

The Uplands Evidence Review has been running for several months and is now drawing to a close. The Natural England website has all the details, but in summary, five topics were chosen to be reviewed: tracks on peatland, burning impact of burning on peatland, upland hay meadows, sustainable stocking regimes and restoring degraded blanket bog.

I have been contributing to the review of tracks, and I was pleased that this was one of the lighter topics. Even so, there seemed to be no shortage of scientific papers to be reviewed, while producing the review group's report.  Our report has been sent to the Assurance Group, who will be reviewing all the reports, prior to submitting them to Natural England.

The process is due to complete by the end of March.  Natural England is running a workshop in York on 26 March, which I will be attending.  During the workshop, Natural England will present the five reports and invite comment.

This has been a massive project, and I suspect that the amount of work involved has exceeded everybody's expectations. However, it will be a very useful resource, but in many ways, I will be more interested in the next phase.

This will consider the current policy and guidance within Natural England and compare this with the findings of the five topic reports, including the knowledge gaps that have been identified. Consideration will then be given to whether changes to current policy and/or advice will be required.

The process to date has been academic, but once this phase is completed, the review of policy and advice may start to have an impact on the management of the uplands. I will provide some feedback, through this blog, after the meeting on 26 March.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Scotland: identification of snares

On April 1st 2013, the final piece of snaring legislation laid down by the W&NE Act (Scotland) 2011 comes into effect.  After months of uncertainty, it seems that there is finally a concrete idea of how this legislation will be enforced, particularly insofar as how it relates to identifying the operator of every snare in Scotland.

Anyone who has taken a snaring accreditation course over the past two years will have noticed several grey areas surrounding the precise nature of identifying snares with the use of tags. Nobody knew what the precise tag specifications were going to be, and not even knowing what a snaring ID number might look like, it has been tricky to plan ahead.

As it turns out, the police have decided that there will be no specific requirements from a snare tag other than that it should be securely attached to the snare and that it should be easily legible. This therefore allows the use of everything from laminated plastic discs to copper tags. There is still some confusion as to the precise nature of the ID number, so while it has been apparent for some time that snares will need to be marked with a letter indicating the target species, there are still conflicting rumours going around relating to the ID number itself and how it will be made up. What is certain is that snaring applications are being processed by Strathclyde police force at their Pitt Street headquarters in Glasgow.

Waiting times for ID numbers are still very uncertain, and they may take up to a month. Anyone who has not got an ID number will have to pull their snares on the night of the 31st March and leave them unset until tags can be organised and set up. It is impossible to apply for an ID number without a snaring certificate from an approved body, and last minute courses are now being run by the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and the GWCT.

For up-to-date guidance on snaring legislation in Scotland as it now stands, see the latest version of the Snaring Leaflet that was updated December 2012.  The Trust is a supporting organisation for this guide.

Thanks to Patrick Laurie for the text in this post

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sell your heather to Holland

Although it may seem unlikely, there is an opportunity to sell baled heather.  There is a full description in the Reading Room section of the website, but in essence there is a requirement for cut heather in large bales to be used in a bio-filtration process in Holland. The heather needs to be old and have a stem diameter in the region of 8mm – it is the bark that is of interest for this process, not the leaves. 

Anyone who is able to provide batches of 48 bales at the side of a hard track could be able to generate some income. The value of the bales is not high enough to cover all the costs, but if this work was something that has been waiting for some time, maybe this will provide the incentive to get on with it.

The same company is also looking for some bracken in large bales to investigate using bracken as an alternative to heather.

If anyone is interested, please get in touch.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) regulations

It may just be a sign of a sheltered life, but the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) regulations are not at the front of my consciousness.  As they could have some bite, I suggest that you pause for a few moments to consider them.

The regulations cover two different types of project:
  • Projects on uncultivated land, or semi-natural areas that increase its productivity for agriculture.
    • The types of work covered will include: 
      • increasing levels of fertiliser or soil improvers 
      • sowing seed 
      • physically cultivating the soil (by ploughing, tine harrowing, rotovating etc) 
      • draining land 
      • clearing existing vegetation either physically or using herbicides.
  • Projects that physically restructure rural land holdings. This includes: 
    • the addition or removal of field boundaries 
    • recontouring the land through addition, removal or redistribution of earth or other material.
There are parallel regulations in all parts of the UK and before beginning any proposed work consideration must be given to whether it constitutes either an uncultivated land project or a rural restructuring project.   In both cases, you will need to apply to national authorities for a screening decision. 

There is a 35-day decision period for the authority to consider whether the project can proceed or will require consent. Consent will be necessary only if it is believed that the project is likely to have significant effects on the environment.

Inevitably, there is no shortage of bedtime reading on websites.  This is the link to the Natural England website, and there are links to the related information for Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland at the bottom of the page.