Monday, 15 December 2014

Monday: Perth - Moorland Forum Meeting

Today I headed north to Perth to attend the commissioning meeting for the Moorland Forum's Understanding Predation Project.  This project has had a long gestation, over 18 months, and it was a great relief that we have finally got to the start of this important work.

I am the project manager for the project, which has a budget of £220,000, and is due for completion at the end of January 2016.  The work started with a request from the Scottish Minister for Environment, early in 2013, and SNH has developed the concept with the Moorland Forum team.  The work will revise the Predatory Birds Report that the Forum published in 2005, but in addition we will integrate local knowledge into the findings.  Local workshops will be used at the start of the project to  gather views and seminars will be held at the end of the work to allow discussion of the findings.  It is likely that this work will provide some considerable challenges and we will need to make sure that those, from any walk of life, who have an interest in the issues are given a chance to contribute to the work and learn about the findings at first hand.  No pressure then!

There will be more about this project in the next day or so on the Moorland Forum website and the blog that I am setting up for the project.  If the issues are of interest, please feel free to get involved.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Friday: Edinburgh - HT Board Meeting

The final leg of the week took me from Boat of Garten to Edinburgh through a snow covered Aviemore.  There was some doubt about trains running to time, but they ran perfectly.

The HT Board meeting was held in the salubrious surroundings of the New Club, from a room which has an unimpeded, magnificent view of Edinburgh Castle.

The Board members rattled through a busy agenda.  I presented a summary of activity since the last meeting and we agreed plans for 2015.  It looks like being a very busy year with work being spread across England and Scotland.  Also, there is hope that my recent visit to Northern Ireland has re-kindled some good links; it is a part of the UK where the Trust's message could have some beneficial impact, and it is very close to our base in Dumfries.

For 2015, the Board agreed that I should continue to focus the Trust's efforts on five areas of work: heather management, heather beetle, bracken control, Scotland's Moorland Forum and peatlands.  In addition, Patrick Laurie and Sam Harrison will be running the Country Market & Sporting Sale, which will close at 12:00 on 1 May 2015.  In addition to backing me up, Anne Stoddart will be producing the Annual Report in August, and Clara Jackson who will be managing members and their subscriptions.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Thursday: Scotland - Cairngorms National Park

Talk of weather bombs across Scotland does not deter the Heather Trust, but on arrival, Boat of Garten looked much like this.  However, I reached my objective of The Boat Hotel, in time for a good breakfast.

I passed the day profitably and I was ready for a meeting with the Board of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, in the evening.  The Board is discussing a moorland paper tomorrow, and I had been invited, with others, to express my view of the issues.

The Board is considering a key issue of how to develop the management of the moorland area in the Park in the face of criticism about over-intensive grouse moor management, raptor persecution and bad muirburn practice.  It is a big task, as about 44% of the Park's area is under moorland management.  The Board recognises that the management of moorland fulfils an essential role, but part of the land use planning in the Park is to increase the area of woodland and montane scrub, and it is inevitable that this will put pressure on open moorland.

I expressed my opinion that the Park Authority must be prepared to lead the way in moorland management and suggested that the establishment of demonstration sites would provide an opportunity to show leadership.  I think that these sites would provide a platform for discussion that would be an effective way to introduce ideas to those who own and manage the land, with a view to gaining their support for the various initiatives within the Park.

One day I hope that my advocacy for demonstration sites will bear some fruit, as I think it is a very effective method to establish links, defuse lash points and influence management practices.

Wednesday: London - Upland Stakeholder Meeting

This was a day that I got some train miles under my belt.  The first leg was Dumfries to London and this was followed by catching the sleeper to Aviemore.

The draw of London was the Upland Stakeholder Forum meeting that is run by Defra.  It has been going about three years and is getting into its stride.  The role that is developing for this Forum is to provide a strategic framework for all upland issues.  However, the Group highlighted that the most important function for Defra is to show leadership and give direction to the discussions about the many and varied upland issues.

Lord de Mauley, the Defra Minister attended part of the meeting to hear at first hand about some of the issues.

We discussed the formation of the Uplands Alliance, and how a reformed Best Practice Burning Group might relate to the USF as a Best practice Group to represent the views and experience of practitioners.  The Group also discussed the proposal for Defra to facilitate a large application for LIFE funds (~£100m) to deliver improvements in peatland management across the UK over a 10 year period.  I am impressed by the scale of this thinking and it is exactly the sort of work that Defra should be tackling to show leadership.

The Forum also allows an opportunity for members to share ideas and news of up and coming events.  Topics included CAP Reform, the Defra sponsored Hen Harrier initiative, and Natural England's Upland Outcomes Framework.  Some of this falls well short of being riveting but the Forum provides a useful opportunity to air this sort of information.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Tuesday: Bog-athon Cumbria

Today was not an ideal day for this, but a hardy team assembled above Mosedale on the east side of the Lake District to take on the worst that the weather could throw at us. In this area, the blanket peat sits on top of the fell and that was where we had to go.  The photo says it all!

This was the final planned Bog-athon visit.  The visits have served to move debate forward and demonstrate that, correctly applied, the Outcomes Approach being introduced by Natural England has value. It is a way of thinking, not a solution in itself, and involves in reaching a consensus about to objectives for the management of the area.  Extending the coverage to include Exmoor and the Lake District was well worth the effort.  If nothing else, these last two visits have served to emphasise how parts of the uplands can be so different, and how a 'one size fits all' approach to their management is a complete non-starter.

Today, grazing was the only management available, or required, for the area of (very wet) deep peat that we looked at, but it must be recognised that it is a delicate balance to maintain the appropriate levels of grazing while providing the farms with enough income to survive.  Also, it was clear that large commons require a large amount of staff input from Natural England to get them into grant schemes and then support the scheme through its life.  The Outcomes Approach that has been at the core of Bog-athon maybe desirable, but there is a question mark over whether NE has the resources to implement it fully.  

Monday: England - Best Practice Burning Group

I was chairman for the 38th meeting of this Group, yesterday, but we could possibly be nearing the end of this long run.  I was a founder member of the Group way back in 2003, when we were all a lot younger.  One of the highlights of the Group's work was the success of the advice provided to Defra about the review of the Heather & Grass Burning Code, and the regulations behind it, that was launched in 2007.  The Group has made a lot of progress, but maybe it is time for a change.

A suggestion was discussed for the Group to reform as an Uplands Best Practice Group that will provide practitioner input to Defra's Upland Stakeholder Forum, which is now gathering momentum. In the new guise the Group would be better able to provide practitioner input to debates beyond burning, and it was noticeable yesterday that much of the discussion was about peatland management, springing from the Outcomes discussions focussed on the 'Bog-athon' process. See the previous post.  If this change goes ahead, the Group is likely to establish small task groups to address specific topics and these could include issues around burning.

The Uplands Alliance is also in the development stage and it appears that its work will focus principally on research and policy issues.  Some clear thinking will be required to make sure that all the groups work together efficiently and effectively so that we avoid any hint of duplication and serve the best interests of the uplands.

Friday: Bog-Athon Exmoor

What, no heather?
Much though the term 'Bog-athon' is overused, it is the easiest way to describe the purpose of the visit to Exmoor, last Friday.  The aim was to bring a moor in the south-west England, into the Bog-athon process, and link to the other work that was carried out in June.

Bog-Athon is a manifestation of the new engagement process being adopted by Natural England.  This provides for early consultation with the owners and managers of the land and is a much healthier process. I welcome this change and wish to encourage this development.  This is why I was happy to travel to Exmoor and take part in the visit with Natural England.  I was also able to use the is it to catch up on the progress of the Graze the Moor project on Molland Moor, that I am running.

During the visit we looked at the peatland restoration work being carried out as part of the Mires Project and discussed other management work.  It served as a reminder that the balance of upland issues is different on Exmoor in the south-west.  We were also able to brief members of the Moorland Initiative Board of the Exmoor National Park Authority in the afternoon.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Grouse shooting - benefits

As the grouse shooting season draws to a close, The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Moorland Association have highlighted the key facts about the value of grouse shooting and the benefit it brings for the economy and the environment.  

This information has been sent to all MPs:
  • Heather moorland is rarer than rainforest and 75 per cent of it is found in Britain because of grouse moor management.
  • Grouse shooting in England, Wales and Scotland supports conservation work and is worth an estimated £100 million a year.
  • Grouse shooting in England, Wales and Scotland supports the equivalent of more than 2,500 jobs.
  • Conservation for grouse shooting is landscape-scale management.
  • 79 per cent of upland EU Special Protection Areas are managed as grouse moors and up to five times more threatened wading birds are supported on moors managed by gamekeepers.
And for those who prefer their facts in pictures, the buzzword is 'infographic'.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Northern Ireland: Bracken Control Demonstration Sites

Photo: PDG Helicopters
I spent two days in Northern Ireland, last week, as the guest of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). I visited four of the six demonstration sites that were established this summer to compare the effectiveness, against an untreated area, of three different treatments: cutting, rolling and spraying with asulam. Two additional sites are planned for 2016, and a fourth treatment plot is proposed on each site using a weedwiper with glyphosate.

CAFRE is to be congratulated for setting up this work as it will provide very useful information about the control techniques in different settings around Northern Ireland.  It is the only new work of this nature that I am aware of in the UK at the moment.

As part of my visit, I gave a presentation to two farmers meetings that had been set up by CAFRE in the hope of encouraging farmers to get to grips with the bracken on their farms. The ineligibility of bracken covered land for Single Farm Payment is adding an extra incentive to control bracken.

I will be keeping in touch with the development of the bracken control sites and I hope to be invited back to Northern Ireland to help interpret the results for all the owners and managers of bracken covered land in the Province.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Northern Ireland - Bracken Control

I am in Northern Ireland for the next two days as a guest of the College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). I will be giving a presentation about bracken control to a farming audience at Greenmount College tomorrow evening at 19:45 and again at a meeting in Cushendall on Wednesday evening (20:00 in the Old School House).

It will be an action packed couple of days. Tomorrow, I will be visiting Greenmount Hill Farm in the morning, and no doubt discussing a range of hill and upland issues, and then I am meeting the National Trust on the Murlough NNR to view the CAFRE Bracken Control Demonstration Plots. On Wednesday, I will be visiting three more areas that have CAFRE Bracken Control Demonstration Plots. These are on Antrim Estates land near Glenarm, and on two National Trust properties on the River Bann estuary near Portstewart, and at Whitepark.

Monday, 6 October 2014

A New Chairman for The Heather Trust

Antony Braithwaite
At the AGM last week, we said good-bye and thank you to Malcolm Hay after seven years as our Chairman and welcomed Antony Braithwaite as his successor.  In accepting the position, Antony acknowledged the work of his predecessor that had helped to guide the Trust to the most influential time in its 30 year history.  He hoped to continue the upward trend and to ensure that the Trust was well respected and influential throughout the UK.

Finzean House meeting
The AGM was held in the marvellous setting of Finzean House, near Banchory in Aberdeenshire.  This is the home of Donald and Catriona Farquharson and the family turned out in force to support first the AGM and then the discussion meeting that followed.  The discussion meeting was attended by 29 people and was hosted by Andrew Farquharson, who manages the Finzean Estate.  The Estate was the winner of the Golden Plover Award this year, which the Trust awarded in conjunction with Adam Smith (Director Scotland for GWCT and a HT Board member), who was also present at the meeting.  Dr Dick Birnie opened a few eyes with his presentation about peatlands and why the owners and managers of land need to take note of the output of the research into these important areas.

Finzean Estate visit
The whole day was blessed by glorious weather and we were able to make good use of this in the afternoon, when Andrew Farquharson led us on a visit to inspect the estate's management of the heather against the continuous cover woodland. The whole day served as a great demonstration of why the Finzean Estate was a worthy winner of the Golden Plover Award.

Grouse: Time for a Gritting Holiday?

The GWCT Blog contains this post by Hugo Straker advising caution in the repeated use of medicated grit.

I am far from being a grouse expert, but I am surprised by the response I get during advisory visits about worm burdens in grouse and the gritting policy. I often get the reply that worm burdens are not being assessed and that medicated grit is being used as a prophylactic measure.

There are two issues here: the cost and the build up of resistance to the dugs in medicated grit.  I understand the need to reduce every risk it is possible to manage, but I would have thought a modest expenditure in blood testing would show whether the high cost of medicated grit would be justified.  However, the risk of the build of resistance to worm treatment offered by medicated grit is by far the most important issue.  Medicated grit has been shown to be a fantastic tool, but its use needs to be targeted; it should not just be used as a precautionary measure, however tempting.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Making the Most of Moorland - GWCT guide to grouse moor management

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has published a free guide to grouse moor management that provides information about the role of sporting management in sustaining our upland ecosystems.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

IUCN UK Peatland Conference

Monday October 20th - Wednesday October 22nd 2014 at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, Scotland

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bracken Control - Use of Asulam

Asulam has been available for bracken control in 2014 under the provisions of an Emergency Authorisation. On 15 September, the 120-day period of the authorisation comes to an end, but all is not lost.  The end of the authorisation just marks the end of the period in which it is possible to advertise, sell or transfer asulam.  Users have until 31 October to apply their stocks of asulam, to return unopened containers to their distributor, or otherwise dispose of their stocks in accordance with current regulations.  After 31 October, it will be illegal to hold any asulam.

For more detail see the Bracken Control website.

I am the coordinator of the Bracken Control Group and, with support of Group members, I prepared and submitted the successful applications for the Emergency Authorisations in 2013 & 2014.  I have organised a meeting of representatives of the Group, on 16 September, and amongst a raft of other issues, we will be discussing the application for an Emergency Authorisation to allow asulam to be available in 2015.  Chances are good, but there are no guarantees.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Scotland: Peatland ACTION - applications for last call for funding

Announcement from the Peatland ACTION project:

The last round of Scottish Natural Heritage’s Peatland ACTION project is now open for grant applications, with a closing date of:

1st September 2014. 

Potential applicants are reminded that restoration ground-work MUST be completed by 15 March 2015 at the latest. Given the tight time-scale for completion of works, combined with the approaching autumn-winter weather and reduced daylight, potential applicants need to be mindful of the challenges posed. Please be realistic about the type and scale of work that is feasible. We will not fund projects that can’t guarantee completion by this date.

To help you in planning, beyond the closing date, it can take 6 to 8 weeks before formal approval is received. You will not be able to start the work before you receive any formal grant offer we might make.

For guidance, we would welcome applications from those who are confident that they can complete a restoration project in this time period. It will help us if you can submit you application before the 1st September deadline, where possible. This will allow us to process applications and follow up any queries we might have sooner.

Further information for applicants can be found on the project webpage ‘information for applicants.’ This includes standard information on eligibility, application forms and guidance on how to apply.

Types of projects we suggest are feasible in this short timescale are:
  • Shovel ready projects
  • Ditch blocking
  • Scrub removal
  • Tree felling – only where felling licences are in place 
  • Peatland restoration feasibility
  • Restoration plans
  • Peat depth and hydrological surveys
  1. Where trees or materials are removed for sale, you will need to provide detailed information on costs and income. Any profit will offset the amount of grant offered.
  2. Do not include projects that require fencing or stock bridges.

Next steps

If you plan to submit an application, could you please register with Peatland ACTION by email (below), providing:
  • Name of the project
  • Likely level of funding to be requested and expected project cost
  • Simple description of the type of work involved e.g. ditch blocking and scrub removal

Help and advice

If you want to discuss your application with a member of the Peatland ACTION team, please

Future funding

Beyond March 2015, the SRDP will be the main source of funding to maintain and restore peatlands. For those who have applied for Peatland Action funds in the June round we will be contacting you in the next few days

Andrew McBride
Peatland Action Project Manager

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Grouse moor licensing

BASC has published a paper entitled “Grouse moor licensing – assessment of proposal and summary of unintended consequences” and the organisation is using this paper to influence policy makers.

The facts presented in this paper serve to highlight how thin the argument in favour of licensing is.  While I can see the need for some change and development in the way that moorland is managed, I can see no logic to justify licensing of grouse moors.  It would be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Positive and supportive engagement by the licensing lobby is much more likely to achieve benefits for the birds they seek to promote and protect.  They will argue that they have tried everything and achieved nothing, but maybe they ought to look to their approach and tactics before walking away in high dudgeon.

A workable and lasting solution must be achievable, but it will not be achieved without compromise.  In my view, we need to give the brood management proposals a chance and learn from the process.  It may not have have all the answers, but at the very least it will be progress.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Peat Restoration in the North Pennines

Peat restoration can be good news for all interests and the work being carried out in the UK is gathering momentum.  See the article published by Stackyard, yesterday, for details of work taking place in the North Pennines.

Raising water tables by blocking drainage channels (or grips, or groughs) helps to keep the peat wet and reduces erosion by wind & water.  To safeguard the peat long-term, it needs to have vegetation cover and restoring the sphagnum mosses that formed the peat in the first place is a good way to go.  Techniques to reintroduce sphagnum mosses are developing. If these mosses are kept wet after establishment, they will start to form more peat, and capture, then store carbon from the atmosphere.

It is a good thing to be doing especially if in the future, the value of the restoration work is recognised and creates a source of income to offset the costs of the restoration work.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Bracken Control

The bracken control season is in full swing and I have published a Newsletter for the Bracken Control Group.  An important point is that the main control chemical, asulam, will be available in smaller, 5 litre containers from next week.  UPL, the manufacturers, have agreed to carry out a special production run in response to the requests from farmers and others wanting to treat smaller areas.

The Newsletter can be downloaded from the Bracken Control website.

The Value of Shooting

The Value of Shooting, a report into the economic, environmental and social contribution of shooting sport to the UK, was published on Sunday. This is an update of the previous report that was published eight years ago and the figures show that despite the economic woes in recent years, shooting continues to provide jobs, and benefits for tourism and conservation.

The findings in the report have been extracted from 16,234 responses to a questionnaire.  The main findings are:
  • Shooting accounts for a spend of £2.5 billion each year on goods and services 
  • Shooting is worth £2 billion to the UK economy (GVA) 
  • Shooting supports the equivalent of 74,000 full-time jobs 
  • Shooting is involved in the management of two-thirds of the rural land area 
  • Nearly two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting 
  • Shoot providers spend nearly £250 million a year on conservation 
  • At least 600,000 people in the UK shoot live quarry, clay pigeons or targets 
  • Existing industry information shows that there are at least 1.6m individuals who shoot live quarry with an airgun 
  • Shooters spend 3.9 million work days on conservation – the equivalent of 16,000 full-time jobs 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

For Peat's Sake RSPB - join the party

It will not have escaped the attention of anyone, with an interest in the uplands and access to the Internet, that there have been some acrimonious public exchanges in the last couple of weeks.  The debate has been hotting up around moorland management and raptor persecution. Due to my preference to present positive management issues, this is not an area that the Heather Trust strays into very often, but on this occasion I have been drawn to comment.

For those who want to follow the debate the exchanges are available on the websites - see the RSPB letter, and the Moorland Association reply.

My view of this sort of exchange is that achieves very little apart from a deepening of the trenches from which the bricks are launched, and the birds that the RSPB seeks to protect are the most likely losers from this continuing trench warfare. I do not deny that the land management community needs to get its house in order, but an approach that risks the alienation of every landowner, land manager, gamekeeper and farmer cannot be the best way of making progress. Management may not be perfect, but the owners and managers of land are the only people who can make a difference. We need to encourage a spirit of cooperation, not alienation, and work together.  With a bit of compromise, there is the potential to deliver lasting benefits for all interest groups.

The bog-athon visits described in the previous post illustrate what can be achieved from a little consensus building. This approach may not increase membership numbers or produce column inches in the same way, but in my view it is much more likely to produce lasting benefits for the upland areas and species that we all work to protect and enhance. The bog-athon has started a process, which has the RSPB at its core, that is capable of delivering real progress.

High Peak - damaged peatland
It is extremely confusing and frustrating that on return from a positive meeting of the burning group, I was met by another missive from the RSPB that seeks to ban burning in the Peak District ‘For Peat’s Sake Stop the Burn’.  This promotes a very different and negative message to that coming out of the bog-athon process.  There is a challenge in the Peak District to repair the damage of the past, but we will achieve little by heated exchange.

Perhaps the RSPB needs to get its house in order and decide what it really wants to achieve.  Then the organisation needs to be realistic about how best to do this.  I would be delighted to to support them where our interests overlap (which would be in many places) but the mixed messages coming out of the organisation at the moment make this difficult, or even impossible.

Come on RSPB - it is time to get off your high horse and join the party.  A united moorland management industry could achieve great things.

Burning on Deep Peat

The Bog-athon in progress
Holiday and a lot of activity have resulted in this blog being quiet for a while.  However, this does not mean that I have not been busy.

One of the main topics that has attracted a lot of activity in England in recent weeks has been burning on deep peat.  As the current chairman of the Best Practice Burning Group, I presided over the 37th meeting of this Group on Monday, this week.  Many are bemused by how could we find enough to talk about to fill 37 meetings, but I can assure that we have done.  Along with others, I have been there from the start, and I can assure you that there has never been any shortage of discussion.

The latest flurry of activity has been spurred on by the Evidence to Advice phase of Natural England’s Upland Evidence Review.  I commented in an earlier post about how this process had lost its way and that an unfortunate amount of heat had entered discussions.  As a way to defuse this, and to allow NE to make progress, what has become known as the bog-athon was set up.  A working group from the main Burning Group visited 3 areas of deep peat in Northern England on successive days. This was pretty intensive, not helped by staying in the same pub on the nights in between, with the inevitable consequences.  However, the intensity allowed us to drill down into areas of discussion that had eluded us at other times.

I was joined on the working group by representatives from Natural England, RSPB, Moorland Association, Yorkshire Water and a landowner / farmer. In addition, the gamekeepers, landowners and NE Area Staff with an interest in the moor joined each visit to provide local input.  The visits took place on Raby Estate, Upper Teesdale; Keighley Moor, Yorkshire; and the High Peak in the Peak District.  These moors represented a good range of habitats and management objectives that allowed the working group to start to develop an approach that would work to deliver multiple objectives, if applied to other peatland.

The Burning Group meeting allowed the working group to present the thinking to other members of the Group.  The diverse membership makes it impossible to develop proposals for guidance, but  there will be a delay before the Group can issue any statement about what we are proposing, as member organisations need to review the proposals first.

Until there is an agreed position from the Group I cannot provide details of what is proposed but let me provide a flavour:

  • I have been heartened by the way that a good deal of consensus has developed as a result of the bog-athon visits.
  • There is no intention to ban burning on deep peat; it will continue to be available as an important tool.
  • There is a need to adapt the way that burning on deep peat is approached; more sensitive use of fire can be beneficial to all interests.
  • More sphagnum moss should be encouraged.
  • Landowners and managers have the ability to innovate and produce the desired outcomes. 
  • Further discussion needs to look forward; chewing over old bones will not be productive.

It is likely to be into the autumn before there is any formal output from the Group, and I am keen that there is a joint communiqué that expresses the view of the Burning Group, rather than rely on separate announcements made by individual organisations.

This is all a big improvement from the loggerheads position we have ended up in at the end of some of the 36 previous meetings.  The problems have not gone away but we have made considerable progress.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A "Bottom-up" approach but with far less crap please!

Let me draw your attention to a gentle rant published by Peter Thompson on his GWCT Blog.  He may be referring to a lowland river system, but his concerns about bureaucracy stifling progress and the lack of a link to any action rings true in any location.

A policy, initiative or project, no matter how good or bad it is, will only achieve something when it leads to some action. In relation to land, this means that the owner or manager of the land must understand what is being suggested and agree to act on it. Progress can only be measured by action on the ground.

Ideas come easy; implementation can be more difficult. The owners and managers of land are the delivery agent and for success must be involved in the development from the start.  However, owners and managers are busy people and are not sitting around waiting for the next shiny initiative to be delivered to them.  We need to make it easy for them, and everybody else, to understand what is being proposed by implementing a cutting the crap.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Peatland Management & Restoration

Photo: Andy Hay / RSPB Images
See the article on the BBC News website for full details about a £4m grant for the Flow Country.  The Trust supported the initial grant application submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund but it has taken about 12 months to get to this stage.  This demonstrates the commitment and pump-priming funding that needed, when pursuing these big grants.  

The funding represents a major funding boost for peatland restoration in the Flow Country and will work alongside the £15m of funding being provided by the Scottish Government for the Peatland ACTION project, thick operates throughout Scotland.  I am involved with Peatland ACTION through the Peatland Steering Group and Scotland's Moorland Forum and the Forum hopes to provide some input into running events for Peatland ACTION to help link theory to practice.

I am also supporting the development of the Peatland Carbon Code that seeks to develop a protocol that will allow private sector funding to be provided for peatland restoration and carbon capture.  This work, which is being sponsored by Defra, covers the UK and I am attending a steering group meeting in London, next week.  A key issue in the debate is the role of burning in peatland restoration, which I believe has a role, and this links to the discussions within the Best Practice Burning Group in England.

The Trust is living up to its strap line of "Promoting Integrated Moorland Management"!

Scotland: Land Reform Review Group report published

The final report from the Land Reform Group, commissioned by the Scottish Government, was published on Friday 23rd May 2014

Savills have published their view of the Report and I suggest that this offers a useful summary and a balanced response.  They have recommended a measured approach:
"Land and property owners need to be aware that change is ahead, but there is not much action that can be taken at this point in time. The Scottish political scene is very 'noisy' at present and owners would be best advised to reflect carefully on the report, and to participate fully in the public consultations and legislative programme that will ensue post the Referendum."

Friday, 30 May 2014

Retirement of a Moorland Icon

Today marks the retirement of Martin Gillibrand, who has been a force, an irresistible force some would say, to be reckoned with in the English uplands since before most people can remember.  There some impressive statistics in the Lancashire Evening Post article about his outstanding contribution to the English uplands during his period as Secretary of the Moorland Association.

I have watched him in action through long hours of debate in the Best Practice Burning Group, which  Marin was instrumental in setting up.  We have completed 36 meetings together and we are still counting and still talking. Every time that progress looked like it was flagging Martin was ready with his verbal whips to spur us into more action. He will be missed in these meetings, even though there remains no shortage of issues to debate.

I wish him well in his retirement and I look forward to continuing a close relationship with the Moorland Association through the new Director, Amanda Anderson, who has taken over from Martin.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Recent Activity 2: Defra and the NE Upland Evidence Review

Rather later than anticipated, here is the promised update following the meeting of Defra's Upland Stakeholder Forum (USF) at the beginning of May.  I have developed this to include a summary of the recent developments with Natural England's Upland Evidence Review and Upland Guidance Refresh, which form part of the work of the USF.  This post also encompasses some comment about the input from the Best Practice Burning Group.  This interlinking may appear to complicate matters, but it is significant.  We must not attempt to consider issues in isolation, especially when they are so  important.  Nature works in a joined up way, with much interdependency between the different systems, and if we want to understand and engage with what is going on, we must work in the same way.

What follows is lengthy and involved.  I fear that a casual reader of these words may already be confused and turned off, but if you have an interest in the English uplands, I would encourage you to wade through this.  It is complicated, but it is also important for the future of these areas.

Defra Upland Stakeholder Forum meeting
The Defra Upland Stakeholder Forum meeting was held in London on Thursday afternoon, 1st May.  Briefings were provided about the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS), and the thinking behind the moorland uplift (the increase in the CAP payment for farmers on moorland), but a lot of the discussion took place around Natural England’s ‘evidence to advice’ phase coming out of the Upland Evidence Review that concluded in May 2013.  In the all pervasive corporate speak, this work operates under the title of the Upland Guidance Refresh.  There is support for much of the output from this work, but part of the guidance from the ‘restoration of blanket bog’ and the ‘effects of managed burning’ topics, which has been considered together, has proved to be contentious.  During the meeting, Natural England expressed regret about the way that some of the guidance had been published, with some justification, and this was gratefully acknowledged.

The Upland Evidence Review and the Upland Guidance Refresh
To refresh memories, reports from all the review topics were published on 30 May 2013 (see the NE website) and the five topics covered by the Upland Evidence Review (UER) were:
       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; and
       Moorland grazing and stocking rates.

As part of the next ‘evidence to advice’ phase, the Uplands Guidance Refresh, three levels of guidance are being produced:
  • Tier 1: Quick Start guidance – the approach, processes and systems that Natural England staff will use in the uplands, which is relevant to all uplands casework;
  •  Tier 2: Upland Principles – summary guidance to provide a non-technical summary for each of the five topics to be used by Natural England Staff; and
  •  Tier 3: Upland Practitioner - detailed guidance to provide more technical guidance for all five topics, along with links to further information and technical reports, where appropriate.
The Tier 2 guidance for the burning and peatland restoration topics covered by the UER has been combined into one document and this was published in draft in time for consideration at the first meeting Best Practice Burning Group this year, on 11 February.  The guidance came in for heavy criticism and it made for an ‘interesting’ meeting!  For my sins, I had been asked to chair this meeting, which gave me little chance to express my own concerns, but it was clear that there was little, if any, support for this Tier 2 guidance.

As part of the stakeholder engagement process of the Upland Guidance Refresh, with the Moorland Association, Yorkshire Water and the RSPB, I had already been invited to attend a further meeting with Natural England, during the week after the Burning Group meeting.  This gave me an opportunity to express the Trust’s views fully.  This small group met again on 17 April to visit a moor at the north end of Nidderdale and it was during this visit that a better understanding between the various factions started to emerge. 

The Best Practice Burning Group next met on 30 April and this was a site visit in Coverdale.  Here the Burning Group was shown a grouse moor that was being managed sensitively for peatland re-wetting while still producing grouse.  More progress!

It is not all bad news.  Natural England has expressed a genuine desire to get the UGR guidance right and the message could be worked with, but the form of the initial Tier 2 guidance about burning and restoration was bound to cause offence to owners and managers of moorland and lead to alienation.  It had started from the wrong direction. 

There is widespread acceptance that management of deep peat needs to be more sensitive to the needs of these areas, but a complete ban on burning is not the answer.  The social and economic interests associated with peatland areas must be taken into account and other impacts must be considered.  A large, negative impact on grouse production would remove a vast amount of investment into these areas, and the loss of burning as a tool could lead to a large increase in food for wildfires.

I am not proposing that the messages coming out of our increasing knowledge, understanding and appreciation of peatlands are ignored, far from it.  However, I cannot accept that a ban on burning is the panacea for all ills, as it is often presented.  A much more intelligent, joined-up approach is required that reflects everyone’s interests.  The value of our uplands, moorlands and peatlands to provide natural services (ecosystem services) is being recognised and this is of benefit to all of us.  However, our regulators must learn to work with the owners and managers of land and to do this some compromise is required.  Everyone cannot have everything they would like.

Working together with compromise and understanding will achieve much more in the longer term than short term initiatives imposed against the grain of current upland management tradition.

Where to Next?

1.  The Upland Guidance Refresh.
Currently, the Tier 2 guidance for the burning & restoration topics has been mothballed and the development of the Tier 3 guidance is being planned using a more collaborative process.  This will allow stakeholders to have some input to the development of the guidance rather than being presented with Natural England’s solution to comment on.  This is a move towards proper consultation which will be mush more effective!

I will be part of a sub-group of the Burning Group to help with the development of the Tier 3 guidance.  I will be working alongside the Moorland Association, the RSPB, Yorkshire Water, the National Gamekeepers Organisation and a grouse moor manager.  This will involve several site visits to different parts of the English uplands so that we can feed a range of different conditions into the guidance.

Assuming we can achieve some balanced acceptable guidance at the Tier 3 level, the hope is that the Tier 2 guidance can be re-visited and revised in the light of agreement about Tier 3.

2. The Upland Evidence Review - Phase 2
In the meantime the UER has moved on and phase 2 is considering new topics:
  • Heather beetle (we are not doing this, but we will be fascinated by what is produced)
  • Habitat restoration (initially a wide search to identify priority habitats for detailed review).
  • Wind turbines and bats (onshore)
  • Wind turbines and birds (offshore)
3.  User Testing
Earlier in the year I was asked to organise four events to take place in March across England to test the guidance coming out of the Upland Guidance Refresh process.  It was decided that the guidance was not ready for testing and the events were postponed.

I believe passionately that discussion with a cross-sector group, while standing in 'the purple stuff', is an invaluable tool in the effort to raise understanding of upland management issues and how they interrelate.  I very much hope that we can return to run these events, later in the year.

4. Other Initiatives
There is plenty else going on in England, and I will report on additional topics as time is available.  These include:
  • The formation of an Uplands Alliance;
  •  The development of the National Centre for the Uplands at Newton Rigg College, Penrith;
  • The development of a Peatland Carbon Code to provide a route for private sector funding into peatland restoration;
  •  The work of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum.