Tuesday, 19 December 2017

New Director for The Heather Trust Announced

The Board of The Heather Trust is delighted to announce that Anne Gray has been appointed to succeed Simon Thorp as Director of the Trust. 

Anne has been working in rural development for over 10 years, most recently for Scottish Land & Estates.  She will join the Trust in mid-February and take over as Director soon afterwards.  Simon Thorp will continue to support the Trust as a consultant.

More detail will be published in the New Year.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

See the NASA video that shows how our weather can be monitored by tracking the aerosols in the atmosphere.

While this is of general interest, and you can only guess at the computer power required to produce this short video, the relevance to The Heather Trust's activities is in the large volume of smoke from the wildfires in Portugal in the western USA & Canada.  The area of the globe affected by this smoke is probably large enough to have an influence on weather patterns.

Another reason for taking the threat of wildfire seriously!

Monday, 13 November 2017

Woodlands in Scotland : Where have all the flowers gone?

Photo: Kate Holl
Is the grazing balance in Scottish woodlands correct?  Kate Holl, the SNH woodland advisor, provides a view following her Churchill Fellowship exploring woodland in other countries.

Grazing can be excluded from some woodland, but we must not ignore the practicalities of life.  We need woodlands to provide timber and deer and sheep to provide management input and the income to pay for other forms of management.  A completely hands off approach for all woodlands, as proposed by some members of the re-wilding lobby, is too extreme.  Perhaps the answer is a mix and match approach - some unmanaged woodland alongside woodland used for other purposes.

Conservation "needs people in boots, not people in suits"

See Matt Ridley on the announcement by Michael Gove about the plans to set up a new statutory body, “independent of government” with “clear authority” whose job is to “uphold environmental standards”.

We do not need more quangos, we want better direction from the 'suits' to the 'boots' that reflects the needs of businesses, the environment and communities. Gaining the trust and input from those who manage the land (people in boots) is an essential part of the process, as no changes can be delivered until these people are influenced to do something. The rest of us (suits in boots, or just plan suits) should be seen to be supporting those who manage the land to achieve what society wants. 

We should be putting more, not less, power in the hands of the 'boots' who understand how the countryside, and in my case the uplands, works.  

Friday, 10 November 2017

Lynx and sheep

Photo: Farmers Guardian

It is claimed that the escaped 'pet' Lynx in Wales has killed seven sheep.  Have a look at the Farmers Guardian article and see what you think.  Is it appropriate to risk more of this in our uplands? 

I believe that sheep play a vital role to play in our uplands in terms of generating income to keep farmers on the land and for managing the habitat.  We do not need further challenges to this management.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

"A New Direction for Scottish Land Management"

In the uncertainty that surrounds the future of our uplands and moorlands, it is essential that a clear case needs to be made for what we, those who are actively engaged in the management of the  uplands and moorlands, want.  Without this clear statement, we may end up with something that the politicians and civil servants believe we want, which may be rather different.

Without strong justification, the uplands and moorlands may lose out to schools, hospitals and other drains on the government's budget.  It is a fact that the competing claims on the budget are likely to attract more votes than 'messing about in the hills'.

The possibility of developing an Upland Vision in Scotland has been kicked around for several years, and arguably it is needed more than ever now, to fill the vacuum in thinking about the future.  This was discussed during the meeting of Scotland's Moorland Forum, yesterday, and as a result, Forum members will be considering how they can take some initiative.

Scottish Land & Estates has published A New Direction for Scottish Land Management, and the organisation believes that in future:

  • It will be increasingly important that farming and forestry are able to put forward the strongest justification for ongoing public investment in these sectors.
  • There should be a greater emphasis on farming and land management delivering public goods, such as helping mitigate flooding, providing clean water, enhancing biodiversity or reducing carbon emissions.
  • In the shorter-term, enhancing the profitability of our land-based businesses needs to be a top priority.
I can support the SL&E approach, and I think it is a very good starting point for a wider discussion about what we want for these areas.  if we do not know, who does?

Friday, 15 September 2017

Wildfire - 2 million acres in the US are currently ablaze

See the web article for the full story.  "There are more than 100 active wildfires and at least 41 uncontained large blazes, battled by more than 25,000 responders, the National Guard, and half a battalion of active-duty soldiers."

It could never happen here ... or could it?  

If you want to know more about wildfire issues, come to the UK Wildfires Conference 2017 - "Wildfire resilience in a UK context" - that is being held in Bournemouth 7-8 November.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Why are still using peat in our gardens?

Photo: Murdo Macleod for The Guardian

"The government needs to give a shot of adrenalin to its commitment to phase out peat and support the industry to divest away from peat and keep what remains safely protected in the ground not the grow bag."

See the article in The Guardian.

The Heather Trust seeks a New Director

After 15 years as the Director of the Trust, the time has come to introduce some changes, and I am planning to step down as Director. I see this as an opportunity to introduce new blood and thinking into the way that the Trust operates, and for the Trust to refresh itself, introduce new ideas and move forward strongly, possibly in a new direction.

The search for my successor is about to start and a full handover will take place after a transition period, with the aim of completing this early in 2018.

After the end of a transition period, I will provide support for the Trust as a consultant. I will continue to manage a number of clearly defined tasks, which will include my role as the Director of Scotland’s Moorland Forum, with support from Anne Stoddart as Administrator, at least until the end of the current agreement in March 2019.

I am circulating details of this opportunity through the Trust’s networks and social media, and an advertisement is available here. I invite all members and supporters of the Trust to spread the word about this opportunity to people they are in contact with.

Expressions of interest are being invited by 12 noon on Tuesday, 10th October, and I will be pleased to speak to anyone who would like an informal discussion about the role. The Chairman and other Board members would also be pleased to hear from anyone with an interest in this position. To avoid placing personal contact details in the public domain, please use the Contact Form on the website to request details of how to contact me, or a member of the Board.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Bracken Control Presentation - Argyll - 12 September 2017

For one night only ...
I will be giving a presentation to the Lorn Natural Heritage Group in Seil Island Hall, Ellenabeich, at 19:30 on Tuesday 12th September 2017.

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), hated by many and loved by
few, is a proliļ¬c fern whose rhizomes are the key to its success, defending it against attack by most herbicides. Management is therefore a challenge: this talk, having considered why it needs to be controlled, will review the advantages and drawbacks of options available to those who seek to control it.

More details are on the Lorn NHG Facebook page.

England: Countryside Stewardship: Facilitation Fund 2017

The Countryside Stewardship (CS) facilitation fund has just opened for business.  Based on my experience of running an Objective 5b scheme in the Forest of Bowland in the late 1990s, I am a keen supporter of the role of a facilitator to bring people together and increase the impact of grant funding.  

I have included a bullet point summary of the main points but the website has links to more detailed guidance.

The fund aims to "support people and organisations that bring farmers, foresters, and other land managers together to improve the local natural environment at a landscape scale. This landscape scale approach can cover land under existing agri-environment and forestry/woodland agreements, common land and land not currently covered by a scheme. It builds on the principles of partnership working to deliver environmental benefits, as demonstrated by various initiatives, including farm clusters and the farmer-led Nature Improvement Area."

"Funding will be awarded to successful applications through a competitive process. Priority will be given to approaches which show partnership and a collective approach across holdings to deliver shared environmental outcomes that go beyond what could be delivered by individual holdings acting in isolation."

  • A holding is all the land managed by an applicant in England for agricultural and/or woodland activities. 
    • Where that holding or property is made up of geographically dispersed production or management units across England these can be entered separately. 
  • To qualify for funding, the group will have to undertake activities that are new to them as a result of cooperating.
  • The members of the group will need to manage an area which is sufficient in size to deliver Countryside Stewardship priorities set out in the statements of priorities for the area and that is at least 2,000 hectares (ha).  This threshold represents the size of the holdings, not the size of the area(s) of management activity. 
  • The area of land must be spread over a minimum of four adjoining, or largely adjoining, separate land holdings managed by different people 
  • A common is treated as one holding for the purpose of this funding and can join with non-commons to create the land area of the group. 
  • Applications will be scored against selection criteria, and those with the highest scores will be offered agreements subject to available budgets.
  • The maximum funding for a facilitator is dependent on the number of holdings involved in the group and the work that the facilitator does. With 4 holdings a facilitator could receive up to £12,000 per annum, which comprises £500 per holding and up to £10,000 for costs of delivering the cooperation. 
  • Agreement length: 3 years. 
  • Application deadline: 14 November 2017. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Heather Trust's Annual Report

The Trust has published the 2017 Annual Report and printed copies have been sent to all members and some other people with influence in the UK moorlands and uplands.

The report contains our usual slightly eclectic mix of updates about the work of the Trust, articles by team members and a range of guest articles.  With a view to spreading the word about our activities, we would be pleased to hear from members  with suggestions of people who should receive a copy.  We are also able to circulate an electronic copy of the Report as a PDF.

We will be placing the Report on the Trust's website, after the AGM, which this year is being held in Aberdeenshire on 5 October.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Countryside Alliance on Grouse Shooting

As one of the latest in the exchanges about grouse shooting, prior to the start of the grouse shooting season tomorrow, I was interested to read Countryside Alliance's view, as expressed by Adrian Blackmore, the Director of Shooting.  He makes some interesting points including:
  • The large losses of moorland since the 19th century in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, whereas in the UK we have the interest in grouse shooting to thank for helping to keep our large areas of heather moorland intact - 75% of the total international area. 
  • 44,500 acres of heather moorland on land managed for grouse have been repaired and revegetated across the North of England.

These details are something for the grouse moor community to be very proud of, and I recommend a read of the article, which contains a link to the CA briefing on "The Value of Grouse Moor Management".

Scotland: Peatland Restoration

Does your peatland look like this?

There is £8 million available for peatland restoration across Scotland through the Peatland Action initiative. Applications for grant funding are open until 31 October 2017 and projects must be completed by 28 February 2018.

Go to the Peatland ACTION webpage for more information about how to apply and the grants available.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

England: Grouse moors and conservation bodies join forces

Therese Coffey, MP at Wemmergill
flanked by Richard Johnson (Director)(L) and John Pinkney (Headkeeper)(R).
Photo: Dave Mitchell, Natural England
The Moorland Association reports on the new 25-year agreement between Natural England and the Wemmergill Estate, in Co Durham, which amongst other objectives, seeks to develop and maintain a fully functioning blanket bog system.

Dr Therese Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DEFRA, and Dr Rob Stoneman, Co-Chair of IUCN UK Peatland Programme, have visited the estate and both are very supportive of this work.

This agreement is being supported by the Trust's work with Natural England to promote their Outcomes Approach and as Chairman of the Uplands Management Group, which is developing guidance for managing sphagnum mosses, a key component of blanket bog, through a task & finish group led by Amanda Anderson, The Director of the Moorland Association.

Wildfires in Greenland

If wildfires can occur in Greenland, within 70km of the ice sheet, then surely they can happen anywhere.

The fires are thought to be burning peat deposits, which is something that the Trust seeks to avoid through our work with the Wildfire Forums in England, Wales & Scotland and in revising the Muirburn Code for Scotland.

Burning peat destroys the sensitive peatland vegetation to leave bare ground that erodes quickly.  Burning peat releases large amounts of greenhouse gases that had been stored as carbon in the peat, and these gases are drivers for climate change.

See the full report on BBC News.

Friday, 21 July 2017

2017 - a good year for Heather Beetle?

We are now in the season for identifying heather beetle outbreaks.  The Priority Issues section of the HT website has information about what to look for.

Early indications are that 2017 may be a bad year for heather damage (or a good year for heather beetle).  In the last week, we have received reports of outbreaks in Caithness, Powys and the north of England.  There are concerns that the outbreaks in the north of England may be especially bad this year.

Please may I ask all owners and managers of moorland to keep look out for heather beetle damage and to complete the survey form if an area of damage is identified?

It would also be helpful, if those who have reported heather beetle damage in the past, could let us know if they are now heather beetle free.

All the information we collect will help us to develop a case to justify funding for more research that is needed to get to the bottom of heather beetle - what causes the population blooms that can be so devastating, and how can we manage moorland to reduce the chances of large scale outbreaks?

Prescribed Burning Canadian Style

We may not have the same scale of problem, but are there lessons we can learn from Canada about the use of fire to prevent large scale wildfires?

"In California, four million hectares burned in 2015, setting records and sparking fire experts to blame overzealous firefighting, arguing the land needs some fire."

"A handful of First Nations groups are working to revive the lost practice of fire-keeping, but it's slow, said Pierre Kruger. We have to re-educate people. None of our families' fires ever got away, but people don't understand fire anymore."

Saturday, 6 May 2017

End of the Country Market & Sporting Sale

From L to R: Claire, Clara, and Anne (with help from labrador Rolo) drawing the 
winning ticket for the Prize Draw
Yesterday saw the end of the 2017 Sale, and I would like to thank all our donors and bidders.  Your generosity has earned over £29,000 for the Trust, which is vital funding that allows us to continue our work throughout the UK.

The Sale is fun, but it is also a large amount of work for the HT team, which peaks on the day of the Sale.  I would like to thank them for their efforts in making this possible, and in particular to acknowledge the input from Patrick Laurie and Claire McGhie, who ran the Sale, and the support provided by Clara Jackson.  Patrick's artwork produced 'Gareth the Grouse', who successfully promoted the prize draw.  It is very much a team effort.

There are a few unsold Lots that will be available for a bit longer.  Please have a look at the website.

Ronnie Graham, from Barony Country Foods, Lochmaben, near Dumfries, won the Prize Draw. He will be able to enjoy the luxury of bed & breakfast accommodation at the unique Roxburghe Hotel near Kelso, together with race tickets for four people at Kelso Races and chauffeur driven transport in a gorgeous 1952 Bentley to the friendliest racecourse in Britain.

If you missed out as a bidder or donor this year, we will be starting our campaign for the 2018 Sale in the Autumn.  Please keep in touch.

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'.