Friday, 14 April 2017

The Country Market & Sporting Sale - lift off!


The build up for The Heather Trust's Annual County Market & Sporting Sale is in full flow. Bidding for the Lots on the dedicated website will be available to bid for from 21st April and the Sale closes at 12 noon on 5th May.

This year's Prize Draw offers the winner a luxury day out for four people at Kelso Races, an overnight stay in the sumptuous Roxburghe Hotel, and a chauffeur driven Bentley to provide transport. Tickets are available to purchase now and at only £10 can you afford not to buy one, or even several! Gareth, a Patrick Laurie creation, is promoting the Prize Draw, and to meet him, follow the link to the Sale's Facebook page. Go Gareth!

The Sale provides us with the essential financial support to maintain our input into the many varied and important debates about upland and moorland issues across the UK.  It is also a lot of fun - please  give us your support and spread the word amongst your contacts.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

England: Heather Burning


An article in the Shooting Times reports that there is to be a total ban on burning in the Central Pennines, but this is not the case.  See what the Moorland Association has said about this.

The Trust is working with many other organisations to make sure that such a ban is not put in place.  We argue that, while bad burning practices can cause damage, the use of appropriate burning techniques in the right place at the right time is an essential management tool for large areas of the uplands.  We want to see burning carried out in a way that supports the balanced management of the uplands, and the facilities that they provide, including ecosystem services and economic activity.

Through the Uplands Management Group, which provides input to Defra's Upland Stakeholder Forum, we have been supporting the production of guidance about the importance of sphagnum moss for peatland, and carbon capture and storage.  This guidance supports the use of fire as one of the management tools in the uplands.  The Group will publish further guidance soon   that outlines the appropriate management techniques for sphagnum.

In Scotland, I am leading the review of the Muirburn Code for the Scottish Government,and this serves to indicate the government's support for muirburn that is carried out using appropriate techniques.

In my view, heather burning is an essential part of upland management that must continue to be available, but like any powerful tool, burning must be used intelligently with an awareness of the impact it can have on sensitive features. 

Scotland: Peatland ACTION re-launch


The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, has re-launched the Peatland ACTION project.

The Peatland ACTION fund received a further £8 million from the Scottish Government, in January. The investment allows the Peatland Action Fund, which is administered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), to continue working with its partners and restore a further 8,000 hectares of this precious peatland habitat in Scotland, during 2017/18.

The fund is open for applications on 1st April, but the project team would like to hear about proposed projects now. Updated application requirements and guidance are available from the project's webpages.

In this phase of the project, there is an emphasis on extending the geographical reach to the Western Isles, and for further contractor training. More information will be become available in due course through updates on the project's webpages and posts on social media accounts: @SNH_Tweets and @ScottishNaturalHeritage

The Scottish Government has issued a press release.

A BBC News article includes a video clip with the voice-over provided by Andrew McBride, the Peatland ACTION Project Manager.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Farmers are given free reign to preserve land under new scheme


See the article in the Yorkshire Post for details of the 'outcomes approach' being applied to hay meadows in Wensleydale.  I like the sound of this approach, and I wonder if this might be the way of the future of agri-environment schemes in the post-brexit world.

I am a believer of giving those who manage the land responsibility for delivering an agreed outcome in a way that suits their capabilities, the land and their enthusiasm.  I think we have proved rather too successfully the limitation of a top-down, prescriptive approach to achieving targets.  The garden is not all roses and there will still be a requirement for a regulatory stick to beat those who do not get the message or who try to cut corners, but for once the needs of the majority should be put first.

Well done all involved in setting up this scheme.  I believe that this type of bold approach will achieve the long-term benefits that are required.  There will be some bumps in the road, and I hope that these will not deflect everyone from the common purpose.


Tick and Lyme disease awareness events for South Uist


It is good to see that someone is taking sheep ticks and Lyme disease seriously. See the BBC news report for details of what is happening in the Western Isles.  I think it is something that the rest of us are in denial about.  Lyme disease is nasty, and if you have any doubts about this, talk to someone who has had it.

Are we doing enough to warn people about the threat?  I do not think so.  I have a mental image of happy hikers skipping off on a walk through deep bracken wearing shorts and a T shirt.  There are ticks salivating on the fronds at the prospect.

We have the ability to reduce tick numbers by treating the stock they depend on for a blood meal.  It is not difficult, but it can be expensive and to take place where there is no grouse benefit, will require incentive.  What price human illness, suffering and treatment?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Muirburn Code Review


This Muirburn Code Review has been the focus of the Trust's activity in the last 10 days.  We have run two workshops and have one more to do near Huntly, on Tuesday. After this we will reflect on the feedback we have received and will be presenting this at a final workshop on 14th March at Battleby, SNH's conference centre near Perth.

This review started several years ago with a critique of the existing Code and I have been running the review process since January, last year.  Activity is reaching a crescendo, as the aim is to get the text agreed by the end of March so that the Code can be launched over the Summer, perhaps with some promotion activity.  The draft Code is available on its own website (www.muirburncode.org.uk) and this will be 'beautified' when the text has been finalised to include graphics, photographs and perhaps some videos.

In my view, the publication of the Code will mark the start of a process to bring muirburn up to date with the latest knowledge of fire behaviour, improved fire management techniques, coordinating fire science research and possibly the introduction of more formal training and accreditation for practitioners.  This won't take long!

Keep up to date by following the Muirburn Code Review Blog.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum

I attended the latest meeting of this Forum in London, on Thursday, last week. The Trust is a founder member of this Forum, which was set up by Defra in 2012; it aims to bring together all the interests with a stake in the English uplands.

Meeting Outline
I provided an update on the Trust's work with the Uplands Management Group (T&F Groups working); Bracken Control (Asulam available in 2017); and the England & Wales Wildfire Forum (Wildfire Risk Assessment nearly ready to publish, Wildfire conference being proposed in Dorset - November 2017).

We then covered the development of the 25-year plans for the Environment and Food, Farming & Fishing, which is a major policy undertaking for Defra, especially so, since the Brexit vote.  We also discussed the development of the Natural Capital Approach that is a new kid on the block.  The feeling of the meeting was that while Natural Capital was an interesting concept, it will not raise interest from the owners and managers of land until there is some incentive for completing a Natural Capital Plan.  Until then, this is an interesting topic for the policy and research communities that has little practical application.

The exception to the lack of application is the National Trust's initiative outlined in the Green Alliance's report New Markets for Land and Nature, which introduces a proposed Natural Infrastructure Scheme.  This was outlined during the meeting and while it is clearly fraught with difficulty, the National Trust is to be applauded for taking the plunge and investing time and effort in this.  It might provide a model to develop further.

Forum Governance
I have my reservations about this Forum, as I think it has lost its way, recently.  I hope that Defra will provide the time and energy that it deserves and needs to get it back on track.  We need a place where people can come together to discuss views and ideas and help Defra, and the other governement agencies, to develop policy that will be relevant to the stakeholders that members of the Forum represent.

To take full advantage of the meetings they should be an opportunity for discussion to draw on the knowledge and experience of the members of the Forum.  They should not just be a vehicle to present the government's solutions that have already been decided.

The Forum should provide an opportunity to engage with stakeholder views.  After all, until stakeholders are encouraged, coerced or paid to do something different, nothing will happen and all policy initiatives are a waste of effort. Stakeholders are the delivery mechanism and need to be treated with intelligence and respect!

Preparing for the laser launch at Auchnerran

GWCT is setting up a Laser Fence Project at the Game and Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm, Auchnerran. The laser system is very effective in dispersing bird species, however little or no research has been carried out on the effects these lasers will have on mammal species movements and behaviour.

There is more information on the GWCT blog.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Wildfire in Chile - it could not happen here, or could it?


During 2017, I will be continuing to work with the members of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum and the Scottish Wildfire Forum to raise the profile of the wildfire risk in the UK and to increase our level of preparedness.

See the BBC News report for some footage from Valparaiso, Chile of what a wildfire in a built up area looks like.  In the UK we tend to think that wildfire only happens in remote glens, dales, coombes or valleys, but the rural-urban interface is increasing and with drier, hotter summers in prospect as a result of climate change we need to plan better for wildfire.

This is an emerging theme for the UK wildfire conference that is being planned for November 2017.  The EWWF has coordinating role to play in this conference and more details will be published soon.

Could wildfire get into the centres of population in the UK?  Yes, it could, and perhaps it is a case of 'when' not 'if'.