report on recently published research by the University of Leeds. The title is rather more emotive than the report, and it is encouraging to note the reference to the need to take economic factors into account.
Although there are obvious concerns about the impact of burning on peatland and the downstream effects on water quality, I am more concerned about the impact of bad burning practices and wildfire. I believe that use of best practice burning techniques by skilled moorland managers will produce the best results for grouse, heather, peatland, water and other ecosystems.
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
The Sale closes at 12 noon on 3 May.
We are now in the exciting, critical stages of this year's Sale and we look forward to receiving your bids. Don't miss out on some exciting opportunities - some of the Lots have been made offered specially for our Sale and are not normally available.
The fascinating range of Lots is fully available and bidding is a doddle - just log on to the Sale's website and follow your fingers.
We will be grateful for your support.
Monday, 29 April 2013
|Richard May on cut heather (Patrick Laurie)|
At the Heather Trust, we have revived interest in this debate, as we have been made aware of the work that Richard May, a member of the Board, has been doing in the Peak District. It was time to investigate further, and Patrick Laurie set off last week with this as an objective, in addition to catching up with the work that has been taking place on the moors that are contributing to the restoration trial after heather beetle. Patrick has set out his thoughts from his visit on his own Blog.
Starting with Patrick's thoughts, I have started to list out the issues we could consider as part of this review and it has quickly become extensive. There will be more issues, but these are the first ideas:
- Does burning aid regeneration of heather from seed - the smoke is thought to condition the seed to increase the rate of germination?
- Cutting does not work where the ground is unsuitable - too steep, on broken / rocky ground, where there is no access, or where the ground is too wet.
- Cutting can achieve a fine mosaic that would be difficult to replicate by burning.
- What are the impacts of a fine mosaic on grouse and other species?
- What are the merits of cutting and leaving the brash, against cutting and removing?
- What is the effect of age of heather on the relevant merits of the different techniques?
- How is the impact on the landscape assessed?
- The impact of burning on water quality, especially on peat soils, has been extensively researched, but is there an impact from cutting?
- The relative costs should be considered - burning requires a team of people, while cutting can be carried out by one person and one machine - "burn heather or burn diesel".
- Cutting does not carry a risk of wildfire.
- How can cutting can be best used in support of burning?
- How do we cater for the fact that 'every moor is different'?
I plan to work up these ideas into an article, or even a series of articles, that we will publish in our Annual Report. To make this work as well-informed as possible, I hope to harness some other sources of information that include Professor Rob Marrs, our President; Richard May for input from his work in the Peak District; and possibly other organisations such as GWCT and British Moorlands.
Dick Bartlett of British moorlands is a member of the Trust and is based near Aberlour in Morayshire. During the Cairngorms Land Management Forum meeting, last week (see separate post) he was expounding an approach to moorland management for grouse that involved cutting a network of narrow strips through heather. This could provide some useful input to our review.
Thursday, 25 April 2013
I was invited to speak about peatland management, and explain my view of the future in language that I hope the landowners and managers could understand and appreciate. In my view, the biggest issue that will make people sit up and pay attention is the possibility of peatland restoration and management providing an additional income stream. I attempted to explain that I see the awakening interest in peatland restoration and management as an opportunity, not a threat.
I understand the cynicism that some people express, but my argument to them is that they should at least keep an open mind while the options are explored. They might be pleasantly surprised!
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
|Photo: Andy Law|
Although the were some nasty incidents in South Wales and on Dartmoor, the worst of the wildfires have passed by England and Wales, this year. However, as I have reported on extensively, I believe that the wildfires in Scotland, this year, have highlighted the need for an effective Wildfire Forum. I see a Forum as providing an umbrella organisation to bring together the Fire Service, the landowners and land managers, the practitioners and fire researchers to provide some cohesion, which otherwise appears to be sadly lacking.
Against this background, I attended the meeting of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum, earlier this month. There was some useful discussion around wildfire issues, but I was particularly interested in the proposals to review the governance of the Forum. This is hardly riveting stuff, but unless we get it right everything else suffers.
The current chairman of the Forum is the Chief Fire Officer of Northumberland FRS and although the CFO has changed, Northumberland FRS has provided the chairman for the last seven years. The chairman has indicated that he feels it is time for the chair to be rotated. As Vice-Chairman, he has asked whether I would be interested in taking on this role but I have asked that before this is put to members of the Forum, we carry out a review of the EWWF. There are three issues that need to be addressed.
For the Forum to be effective, I believe it is essential that we have good access to government, and the point of contact is the Dept for Communities & Local Government (DCLG). Without this contact, there is a danger that the EWWF will be unable to have any influence on policy. We need to establish how this is to be achieved.
Another issue to be explored is the future of the funding for the secretariat function. Currently, this is provided by Northumberland FRS, and if the FRS is unable to guarantee that funding ail continue to be available, Forum members must either fund the Forum themselves, or find an alternative source of funds. Either way, without resources the long-term future of the Forum is in doubt. Without an effective secretariat to deliver and chase action, there is a danger that nothing happens between meetings.
A final issue is the continuation of the link to the Wildfire Group that is run by the Chief Fire Officers' Association. This is much more an internal FRS group, but there are concerns that there is duplication and a danger of giving a mixed message to government.
I accept that this is remarkably boring stuff but exactly the same debate needs to take place in Scotland as we move to revitalise the Scottish Wildfire Forum.
Thursday, 18 April 2013
Monday, 15 April 2013
Now that the Easter holidays are behind us, there is a little less than three weeks until the close of this year's Sale at 12 noon on Friday, 3rd May. There has been some bidding on some of the Lots but the field is still wide open for anyone who wants to buy something.
If you are looking for a bit of light entertainment, may I recommend a quick browse through the wide range of exciting Lots that can be viewed on the dedicated website? You never know, you may find just what you did not know you were looking for! If not, you might like to recommend the Sale to someone you know.
As well as being a lot of fun for us (as well as hard work) your support for the Sale provides the Trust with the income we need to carry out a large amount of advocacy work in all parts of the UK to benefit our uplands and moorlands.
Thursday, 11 April 2013
Understandably, as we all lead busy lives, I do not get a lot of input from our band of members, but those who do contact the office can be guaranteed of a personal service. Your input can make a difference.
The benefit of a small organisation is that we are light on our feet and are able to respond quickly and I would like to think that I can say 'yes' or 'no' to any proposal almost immediately. Compare the response to a question about supporting one of our initiatives that I received yesterday from another organisation: we "would like to be involved in this line of work but as you can imagine this would need to be resourced into our work year through the hierarchy".
If you have not already seen it have a look at the new website which gives you a feel for the work we are involved with. The Reading Room with its new Member Briefings is also worth a look
Non-members read on:
If you have read this you must have an interest in the work of The Heather Trust, but may I now encourage you to think about joining the band of members. Subscriptions start at £40 p.a. for individuals and there is a give-away rate for students and gamekeepers of £12 p.a.
Inevitably, all the details you need are on the Membership page of the website.
I look forward to welcoming you as a member of the Trust.
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
The first heather beetle sighting report in 2013 has been received - at Blackheath in Surrey on 7 April 2013. Thank you to Sheenagh McLaren, who also took this great photograph of the beetle she spotted.
While Surrey might not be the first place you would look to find heather beetles, it does show that they are not confined to large expanses of moorland. Those with long memories may remember that the first sighting I received last year from the island of Colonsay on the West Coast of Scotland. My view is that heather beetles live everywhere where there is heather, but I do not know, and no-one does, what causes the population to bloom to plague proportions, which results in the extensive areas of damage that we are all too familiar with.
Where there is one heather beetle, there are likely to be others and I would be delighted to receive more reports. Please keep your eyes open.
I will be using this report to kick start the annual survey of heather beetle and will be publishing the details I receive on the Trust's website. See the dedicated Heather Beetle page for more information about this threat to heather.
|Fire on Chat Tor, Dartmoor. Photo: BBC News|
Although rather after the event, I think it worth recording that it is not only Scotland and Wales that have suffered this year. Dartmoor has had a large-scale incident on Chat Tor. See the BBC News report. It is interesting to note the the report mentioned that 100 firefighters used beaters to control the fire which extended to 1,482 acres. I hope this part of the report was inaccurate that the Devon FRS can provide less stone age equipment for its firefighters.
This incident will add some spice to the discussion at the meeting of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum that I am attending on Friday.
Hopefully with the forecast change in the weather this will be the last incident report in this blog for a time, but this watershed marks the shift from talking about fires to thinking about the lessons that can be learned from the incidents up and down the country. I think it is important to start this process quickly before the rain settles the ash and the smell of burnt vegetation washes out of firefighters hair. It will be too late to consider the lessons in the summer, when life has moved on.
I will post a few ideas onto this blog in the next few days to see if this produces some response.
Monday, 8 April 2013
The Uplands Transitional Payment (UTP) provides support to beef and sheep producers in England’s Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDA) who are managing land in an Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) and/or Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) agreement and previously claimed Hill Farm Allowance (HFA).
The Uplands Transitional Payment is made to Hill Farm Allowance claimants in 2010 who cannot yet enter the replacement scheme, Uplands Entry Level Stewardship because of an existing agreement under the Environmentally Sensitive Areas and/or Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
Up to Wednesday 27 March, the government agency said it had made payments to 925 farmers. This is equivalent to 73% of those eligible for money and more than 67% of the total value of the scheme being paid.
This appears to be impressive, but should the RPA be satisfied with 73% in three weeks? How long will it take to pay the remainder?
|Phytophthora & Blaeberry|
To find out more, and to learn how to pronounce the name, read the Members' Briefing that is available from the Reading Room on the Trust's website.
This is the fourth in the series and these briefings are available for everyone, but if you are not a member a payment of £40 p.a. would correct this - more details here.
Sunday, 7 April 2013
|Photo: Andy Law|
The Scottish Crofting Foundation is quoted amongst other rhetoric that seeks to spread the cause far and wide, and even includes a reference to sheep ticks. It is good to hear someone extolling the virtues of muirburn from a practical viewpoint - well done the SCF. But maybe, the BBC approach is getting closer to the truth: there is no single cause of the wildfire problems, this year, and there is no single person or group of people to blame. Thrashing around looking for someone to blame will not help, and sensational headlines will not solve the problem.
I think we need to take this opportunity to start thinking about wildfire as a regular feature of moorland and upland management. We should move beyond the shock-horror response when it occurs, as if it is not expected. We should take the view that wildfire is likely to occur, and plan for it, rather than being caught on the back foot every time it happens.
I have been giving some thought to how the review of the Muirburn Code can address some of the issues that had been highlighted by the recent events. Perhaps we can start a discussion that will help feed into the review process. I have started drafting the report from the Critique Phase of the review of the Code, and I would welcome ideas from anyone who has a view on how the revised Code can be made relevant and useful for wildfire events, as well as muirburn.
This is another example of a water company working with a landowner and Natural England to deliver benefits from better management of peat, including re-vegetating bare peat and raising water levels. See the article in the Yorkshire Post for more detail.
Wessenden Moor is an area I know well, as it was one of the four moors in the Demonstration Moors Project that the Trust ran for Defra in the five years to 2006. The moor is a large open area of moorland above Marsden in Yorkshire, at the very northern edge of the Peak District National Park. It would be defined mostly as a blanket bog. Much of the peat surface had been eroded and work was underway to revegetate is when I was last there a few years ago.
The photos show a typical area of eroded peat with much bare peat on show, and area where heather brash has been spread to start the re-vegetation process and a general view over the moor.
This type of work has to be good news all round; it will: make the ground more productive, stabilise the eroding peat surface, improve the quality of the water coming off the moor into Yorkshire Water's reservoirs, improve biodiversity and improve the look of the moor for the large number of visitors to the area.
Friday, 5 April 2013
The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service has issued a press release to confirm that all wildfires have now been extinguished and comments that this has only been achieved after an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears by firefighters. Well done all!
The press release includes a caution that muirburn should only be undertaken with very close attention to safety procedures, having first carried out a risk assessment. The FRS press release can be downloaded from the FRS website.
Understandably in the circumstances, the value of muirburn has been questioned and fingers have been pointed at those who have been lighting fires. In response to these issues, I was pleased to hear that Michael Bruce, a landowner, member of The Heather Trust and Chairman of the South Grampian Wildfire Group met with Robert Scott, from the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service this afternoon. Following this meeting a statement has been agreed with Scottish Land & Estates as follows:
LANDOWNERS WELCOME CONSTRUCTIVE TALKS WITH FIRE SERVICE
Landowners from the North and North-east of Scotland have held ‘very constructive’ talks with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service following the widespread outbreak of wildfires.
Michael Bruce, chairman of the South Grampian Wildfire Group and owner of Glen Tanar Estate, met Robert Scott, Assistant Chief Officer for the North Service Delivery Area, and his assistant, Andy Coueslant, North of Scotland Area Coordinator, today.
Mr Bruce said: “We had an excellent meeting and there is no doubt that now landowners who have been involved in efforts to tackle these wildfires are on the same page as the fire service. We welcome Mr Scott’s recognition of the role that landowners and land managers play in dealing with these fires and there is a real commitment to work together in future. As an example, a call for help in the Highlands earlier this week resulted in local landowners offering to provide 10 specialist fire fogging All Terrain Vehicles that could be used in fire-fighting operations, within 10 minutes. That is the kind of response we offer and criticism of landowners earlier this week from some quarters was unwarranted. We have agreed with the fire service to revitalise the work of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, which has been a key focus for partnership working on wildfire issues since 2004.”
This is good, positive stuff and I hope that it will lead to lessons being learned, and applied, as the result of these wildfire incidents. We need to keep matters in balance and make sure that we do not end up with a result that will lead to less muirburn and an increased risk of damaging wildfire.
This new public body became operational in Wales on 1 April and brings together the work of the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency Wales and Forestry Commission Wales, as well as some functions of Welsh Government. It will consider social, environmental and economic benefits in the way it manages natural resources and improves the environment.
But will it make a difference? There are bound to be considerable teething problems as the new body settles down and people get used to working across sectors. Inevitably, in this day and age, one of the limiting factors will be IT - how long will it take the systems from three separate organisations to learn to communicate?
There has to be logic, which the 'change managers' will have hooked onto, in bringing three organisations together and no doubt there will be a slimming down of 'back-office' staff but it will remain to be seen how this impacts on the moorlands and uplands of Wales. To my mind these areas of Wales are in serious need of a champion and the test for the new organisation will not be in how sweetly the organisation runs, the amount of paperclips it uses or the size of the cost savings, but the impact it has on the land and on the people that manage the land.
This model of large single bodies is being considered elsewhere. In Scotland, will SEPA merge with SNH, in England will Natural England, merge with the Environment Agency or the Forestry Commission? Natural England is still suffering birth pains from its formation from English Nature, RDS and the Countryside Commission, and it is far from a foregone conclusion that merging organisations is a recipe for instant success.
Natural Resources Wales claims that it will provide a better service for people and businesses as they will now deal with one single body rather than three. I give a cautious welcome to Natural Resources Wales but from my perspective the jury will be out until the impact on the moorland and upland areas of Wales can be judged.
Thursday, 4 April 2013
PRESS RELEASE4 April 2013LANDOWNERS READY AND WILLING TO TACKLE WILDFIRESScottish Land & Estates, which represents 2,500 landowners across Scotland, said today its members were ready, willing and able to assist efforts to tackle wildfires and were being blamed unfairly for the blaze outbreaks.Luke Borwick, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said landowners are responsible citizens with the specialist equipment, funding and willingness to help tackle wildfires voluntarily.Mr Borwick said: “The private sector remains ready and well-resourced to help and can be mobilised at a moment’s notice, however it is disappointing to hear how our landowning members are being unfairly blamed for this situation.“We are now are calling on organisations such as the NFU Scotland, the Scottish Crofting Federation and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) to ensure that their members assist the fire service in controlling the flames that continue to burn in the Western Highlands.He continued: “Scottish Land & Estates was instrumental in the development of the Muirburn Code, along with other organisations such as the Association of Deer Management Groups, which has existed for several years and our members are well used to adhering strictly to the code.“Contingency plans created by Scottish Land & Estates and other organisations, on the back of the bad fire season in 2011 have been initiated and we have offered support to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. We have members near the fires ready to volunteer their resources to help.“Muirburn is an essential form of hill farm and Highland land management enabling grass and heather regeneration but must be exercised with caution at all times. Some of these fires have been as a result of careless activity by recreational access takers. However, a significant number of fires have clearly been the result of irresponsible actions of other land users burning and not following the Muirburn Code.“We agree with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s call for muirburn restrictions, but any restriction should only be targeted on high risk areas in the west and not applied uniformly across the country. The Eastern Highlands for example in many places are still blanketed in snow, and controlled burning will still be safe, as the snow retreats, for some time there.”ENDSNOTES TO EDITORSScottish Land & Estates published a comprehensive wildfires guide in February last year, following a survey which showed that 96% of its members were willing to participate in creating a chain of wildfire defence, by working with the Fire and Rescue Services and their rural neighbours. The guide also responds to calls being made for contingency plans to be put in place by rural groups in all high risk areas, in an effort to tackle the threat of wildfires ahead of the dry season.For further information:-Ramsay SmithMedia Housem: 0141 220 6040 / 07788 414 856
Wednesday, 3 April 2013
|Photo: Karen Appleyard|
It is inconceivable that anyone in this area where conditions are so dry should be considering muirburn, as it is clear that any fire once established will be difficult, if not impossible, to control. However, this does not mean that muirburn cannot be carried out in other parts of Scotland, especially where snow is still lying, but great care must be exercised; conditions can be deceptively dry even in between beds of snow.
The Fire Service is at full stretch fighting the existing wildfires in NW Scotland, and no-one should consider adding to the workload of permanent and part-time crews. It will be difficult for the Fire Service to maintain this level of activity and with the weather set to remain the same until early next week, there are concerns about how the Service will cope.
As an example of the scale of the problem, I spoke to a senior fire officer this evening, who told me that one of the fires had a front that extended over 8km, it was being attacked by two helicopters with water bombing equipment and numerous fire engines had been deployed to protect property.
This evening the Fire Service reported that in the Highlands & Islands area, fire crews had attended almost 200 wildfire incidents during the last week and there were 6 large wildfire incidents in progress:
- Nine appliances were in attendance dealing with a significant wildfire incidents and were being assisted by a helicopter.
- Four appliances were attendance with assistance from a helicopter.
- Four appliances were dealing with this wildfire incident.
- Two appliances were in attendance.
- One appliance was in attendance.
- One appliance was in attendance.
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
|Photo: Greg Little|
The thrust that landowners do all the burning and that all the fires are escaped muirburn fires was interesting. The suggestion that muirburn was all connected with grouse moor management was also an indication of the perceptions with the Fire & Rescue Service and the BBC. I do not think that the Fort William area is renowned for its grouse shooting.
My interview was recorded and therefore I was not aware of the views that had been expressed in the earlier part of the article. This perception of who carries out muirburn is an interesting issue and is something I will need to take into account in leading the review of the Muirburn Code and its subsequent promotion. There is a danger that in looking to explain this perception, the conclusion will be reached that this is an attack on grouse moor management. However, could an alternative explanation be that the interviewer simply did not know any better and thought that muirburn was only carried out as part of grouse moor management? There might be a wider perception issue to address.
I do not have any information to confirm my view, but I would expect that the amount of moorland / hill burnt for farming or deer purposes is a significant percentage of the area burnt for grouse, even if it does not exceed it. Therefore, to place all the 'blame' for wildfire at the door of landowners interested in grouse moor management is an error.
There is no doubt that any fire that gets out of control is unfortunate, but we must accept that it will happen. I would like to see the review of the Muirburn Code placing a greater emphasis on reducing the number of out of control fires resulting from prescribed burning. This could be achieved by improving the level of training both through transferred experience and by increasing the understanding of fire behaviour.
Liaison with the Scottish Fire Service should also be increased through a re-envigorated Scottish Wildfire Forum. The Forum should seek to link the experience of fire fighting in the Scottish FRS with the experience of prescribed burning available within the land management sector. The two are complementary, especially when the use of suppression fires is considered - using fire to fight fire.
|Photo: Greg Little|
Banavie near Fort William
- The wildfire at Banavie has been extinguished and is under control. Crews are in attendance to maintain a watching brief and check for any hot spots.
- At its height, there was a 3 mile fire front with 8 appliances and 50 personnel who worked throughout the night to control the fire.
- There is currently a large fire front with and crews in attendance who are making good progress in dealing with this heath and moorland fire.
- There is a significant fire with crews in attendance currently assessing the risk to property with an Officer mobilised to assist in the incident management.
- There is a heath and moorland fire in the hills around this area. Crews are assessing the wildfire and the risk to properties in the area.
- The wildfire at Lochinver is under control. Crews remain in attendance to monitor the incident.
- There is an ongoing wildfire with crews in attendance to deal with the incident.
I was near Oban yesterday and can confirm that conditions were very, very dry. I expect that the conditions further north are as bad if not drier. The easterly wind was very blustery, which would make it very difficult to predict the behaviour of a fire.
At the risk of generalising, but based on the conditions I saw, and these wildfire reports, I think it most unlikely that conditions are suitable for muirburn anywhere in the north and west of Scotland. Great caution must be exercised before lighting fires for any purpose.