Thursday, 31 March 2016

Langholm Moor Demonstration Project - completion plan

This 10-year project completes in October 2017.  The project is set up as a company and it is run by a Board of Directors, which met, last week, to discuss how the project is to be managed between now and completion.  This follows the sad resignation of the Headkeeper, Simon Lester, earlier this month, and other reductions in the gamekeeping team.

See the news item on the Project's website for details of the plan that has been announced.

I am a member of the Science & Technical Advisory Group.  As this Group is a form of scientific watchdog for the project, many members are professors, but there are some members who have management experience.  I was invited to join the Group in 2013 to provide further support on habitat management, and it has helped to have had some direct output from the Project that I have been able to share with Scotland's Moorland Forum.

The Directors have acknowledged that the Project is not going to meet all the targets that were set for it. However, there have been many successes and I welcome the plan to write up properly all the work that has been completed so that the moorland management community can get full value from the project. Inevitably, there will be criticism that all the targets will not be achieved, but this should not be seen as failure.  Targets are always going to be at risk when dealing with natural systems that cannot be tightly controlled, and the final report from the Project will need to balance the successes against the challenges that still remain to be answered.

Will there be an appetite for a Langholm 3 project?

Monday, 21 March 2016

Landowners and Managers: what is the state of your peatlands?

Actively eroding peatland
If landowners and managers are unsure about the state of their peatlands, the Peatland Condition Assessment Guide, which has been published by the Trust, provides practical information to help assess their condition.

The assessment process does not require specialist botanical knowledge. Using easily observed features, and illustrative photographs, the guide identifies four categories of peatland condition: near-natural, modified, drained and actively eroding. Identifying these categories is the starting point for establishing the benefit to peatland condition that might result from changes in management and whether or not any restoration work is required. 

The peatland condition categories also link through to Defra-funded research associated with the Peatland Code, and the categories can also be used to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands. This feature may be useful in making a case for funding peatland restoration projects (see note).

The guide summarises some key points about peatlands and provides some detail about their key features:

Key Points
  • Peatlands are important for carbon storage, water regulation and biodiversity.
  • The main peat-forming species are Sphagnum mosses and sedges like cotton grass.
  • These species can be lost through drying of the peat surface as a result of natural and man-induced changes to drainage, burning and grazing regimes.
  • The primary aims of peatland restoration are: re-vegetating bare peat and re-establishing peat-forming mosses and sedges through re-wetting.
Key Features
  • Peatlands are not only important within the context of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change; they also support wildlife, food production and good water quality.
  • Bare peat is worth nothing; it has little value for grazing, game, wildlife, landscape or access. 
  • Peat erosion is not only a direct loss of soil; it also results in the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. 
  • Eroded peat can end up in watercourses with implications for water quality, fish and private water supplies.
  • The increased interest in peatlands is based on the growing global awareness of how important peatlands are for the range of natural (ecosystem) services that these areas provide.
  • Improving peatland condition can provide multiple benefits for a range of natural (ecosystem) services.
Peatland after ditch blocking
The guide is available to download from the Heather Trust’s website.  I also have some printed copies; please contact Anne Stoddart at the Trust, if you would like some of these.  There is no charge for the printed copies, but I would welcome a donation to cover our costs.

I have long advocated that we need to direct more effort at raising the level of awareness within the land management community about peatland.  We need to consider peatland as a valuable asset.  We must accept that it needs sensitive management and landowners and managers are the people to provide this.  I hope this guide will allow landowners and managers to form their own opinion of the state of their peatlands.  If it is established that some management changes would be beneficial or some restoration work is required, I will be pleased to make suggestions about who might be available to help.

I am grateful to Dr Dick Birnie from Landform Research for providing the driving force to produce this guide and to Dr Mary-Ann Smyth and Dr Emily Taylor from the Crichton Carbon Centre for helping with the drafting process.  I am pleased that the Trust has been able to fund the production of the guide and I thank the Peatland Action project for the financial support, which has reduced the cost to the Trust. 

This guide has been produced as a companion guide to the ‘Field guide to Spagnum mosses in bogs’, which was published by the Field Studies Council in 2012, with support from the Trust and other organisations.  The sphagnum guide is only available in printed form – I have a few copies available and it can be ordered from the FSC’s website.

Note: For further information, see the output from the Defra-funded project ‘Developing Peatland Carbon Metrics and Financial Modelling to Inform the Pilot Phase UK Peatland Code’:
·               Presentation given in October 2014 – outlines the approach
·              Full project report - June 2015

A Scottish Demonstration Farm for GWCT

Auchnerran Farm.  Photo: GWCT
In a recent article on their website, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust provided the background to this new development:

"Having a demonstration farm in Scotland has been a GWCT objective for ten years. Demonstration is at the heart of the GWCT’s Allerton Project at Loddington in Leicestershire. Over 20 years this has become a showpiece for our farmland research, demonstrating that good arable farming and game shooting management sustain wildlife and countryside income."

The inclusion of upland and lowland within the farm makes this development of particular interest to the Heather Trust.  I like to avoid placing boundaries around different land types and separating upland from lowland issues is often unhelpful; much farm stock is moved between the two areas and wildlife moves freely up and down the hill.  Therefore, being able to demonstrate how game management and farming work side by side in lowland and upland areas will be very valuable.

An early fund raising target is £5,000 to cover tick treatment for the sheep flock for 12 months.  A JustGiving webpage has been set up to receive donations, which can be made anonymously if desired. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Wildfire: Be Aware

This is a “Wildfire – Be Aware” message issued by the Met Office. 
Further updates to this message will be circulated as more information becomes available.

A high pressure system is dominating the UK’s weather, with the potential to bring dry continental air to parts of the UK at times. This situation is likely to persist for the coming week. Historically, this weather pattern has been linked to elevated wildfire behaviour, at this time of year.

Whilst no specific wildfire warnings are in place, wildfire conditions have the potential to change markedly from day-to-day, depending on the wind direction. The wildfire community should be vigilant of an increase in the frequency of wildfires whilst the high pressure continues to affect the UK.

Karl Kitchen, Met Office

If you have any questions relating to this advice from the Met Office, please contact Rowena Jeremy:

Rowena Jeremy
Business Development Manager - Government Services
Met Office FitzRoy Road Exeter Devon EX1 3PB United Kingdom
Mobile: +44 (0)7717815812 Fax: +44 (0)1392 885050
Email: Website:

Monday, 14 March 2016

Wildfire Conference 2015 - Presentations available

Prevention Better than Cure
November 2015

The presentations from last year's wildfire conference are now available to download.  

The actions and lessons learned during the conference will provide a focus for the work of the wildfire forums, this year, and work will soon need to start to prepare for the next conference, which is likely to be held in 2017.

With the weather set fair this week, there is a good chance for the muirburn, heather burning & swaling plans to be put into action.  Even after all the wet weather of the winter, the vegetation can dry very quickly at this time of year and I urge care so that we do not end up with a spate of wildfires.

The Role of Fire in UK Peatland and Moorland Management

A paper has been produced that reflects on the role of fire in moorland management and it is due for publication in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, in May.  A copy of the report, which is marked 'For Review Only', has been circulated and to prove that this is an emotive subject,  comments have started to fly.  However, much of the rhetoric is based on the merits, or otherwise, of commenting on a report before it has been published.

One of the authors of the report, is Professor Rob Marrs, the Trust's President.  After discussing the report with him, I have agreed that I will not comment on the report until it has been published by the Royal Society.  At this stage, I will ask Rob to provide his comments on the report and I will add a post to this blog.  I will also aim to include a more in-depth review in the Trust's Annual Report that will be published in early August.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Golden Plover Award 2016 - Integrated Moorland Management & Sheep

We are working with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to promote our Golden Plover Award for Scotland.   In addition to an integrated approach to moorland management, which is carried out to a high standard, this year  we are seeking applicants who use sheep as an integral part of their management regime.

We will welcome applications from all parts of Scotland, the more remote the better! Applicants are not restricted to estates or landowners; we will value applications from tenant farmers and crofters.

If you value the management that your sheep provide for your moorland, you will be eligible to apply for the award. 

There is more detail about the Award on the dedicated website

The deadline for applications is 23 March 2016 so that we can review applications and select the winner in the for the award to be made at the Scottish Game Fair on 1 July 2016.

We are grateful to Lindsays - who are Edinburgh based solicitors - for sponsoring the Golden Plover Award, this year.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

England & Wales Wildfire Forum

Alex Bennet, the Chief Fire Office for the Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service, is due to retire in July.  Alex is also the Chairman of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum (EWWF), and I have enjoyed working alongside him as the Vice-Chairman.

The combination of my rural background alongside Alex's dedication to the fire Service has been a good combination, and I hope that we can find a similarly effective formula for maintaining the momentum of the EWWF, which has developed under Alex's leadership.  There is no doubt in my mind that we need to take the threat posed by wildfire more seriously.  After a very wet winter, it is difficult to remember that we could easily be into a wildfire season by the end of April.  The national conference, held in November last year on the outskirts Glasgow, had a title of 'Prevention better then Cure' and I think this is something that the EWWF must continue to promote, alongside the Scottish Wildfire Forum.