Thursday, 20 December 2018

A busy year for The Trust draws to a close

This year has seen many changes at The Heather Trust, which kicked off in February with the appointment of a new Director, Anne Gray, and with past Director, Simon Thorp, slowing down a little but still providing some consultancy support for us.  In the Spring, spurred on by GDPR, we updated a number of internal systems.  In early summer we started a Strategic Planning exercise that has only just concluded, and in the Autumn we also trialled a new style AGM which included a very successful afternoon conference.

With a new strategic plan in place for 2019, can we thank all of those who took the time recently to respond to our consultation exercise – your feedback was invaluable.  The Plan will be available shortly on our website.  Two new initiatives stand out.  The first will be a series of “Resilient Moorlands” site-based events across the country.  Look out for more details coming out in the new year.  We will also be exploring the feasibility of a report, to be developed in collaboration with a range of other relevant organisations, on Great Britain’s Moorlands.  This would be a big undertaking, but it gained widespread support in our survey and we believe if done properly it would paint an invaluable picture.

We will of course be continuing with our representation and facilitation work, not least supporting Scotland’s Moorland Forum and the Working for Waders initiative, and also a number of projects south of the border such as the Graze the Moor Project on Exmoor.

The year just gone as we all know was marked by the summer’s wildfires, and this increasingly important issue will very much remain on The Heather Trust radar, as will the impact Brexit and the wider political direction will have on our moorlands and for our upland communities.  Another busy year ahead.

Please continue to support our work as you are able to.  We are already getting ready for our annual Country Market and Sporting Sale which for 2019 takes place between 19 April and 3 May.  Either donating or bidding on a Lot is perhaps the easiest way to help, but if you would like to give support to a more specific project or area of work then please contact us to discuss this too.

In the meantime from all at The Heather Trust, very best wishes for an excellent Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Private Funding for Peatland Restoration

George Hepburne Scott of Forest Carbon discusses finance mechanisms for peatland restoration work, including an update on the first peatland code registered restoration project at Dryhope in the Scottish Borders.

Restoration of peatlands is a low hanging fruit, and among the most cost-effective options for mitigating climate change” Achim Steiner, Executive Director UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Blanket and raised bogs peatlands account for approximately 9.5% of the UK’s land mass (IUCN, 2011). Healthy peatlands can accumulate carbon, in the form of peat, at a rate of approximately 1mm a year, as well as continuing to store carbon from millennia before. Unfortunately, more than 80% of UK peatlands are in a damaged condition (IUCN, 2011). 

The vast majority of degradation is a result of direct and indirect anthropogenic causes including peat removal, farming, heather burning and acid rain. This degradation causes a significant release of carbon to the atmosphere and into watercourses, a heavy loss of habitats and species and an exacerbation of flood events. The costs associated with restoring peatlands now are significantly lower than on-going costs to society of leaving them in a damaged condition. There are many highly successful examples of landscape scale restoration projects having been delivered across the UK. 

Whilst there is public funding available to help stimulate further restoration, it is highly unlikely to be sufficient to deliver the level of restoration required to meet Government targets. There is growing recognition that without the necessary funding, landowners and land managers simply do not have the financial resources (and in some cases the motivation) to tackle restoration. 

The Peatland Code 

The Peatland Code, launched in November 2015 by IUCN, seeks to link up landowners with private funding, providing additional or alternative funding to any available public funding streams such as the Scottish Rural Development Program (SRDP) for peatland management. The Peatland Code is a voluntary standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the climate benefit of peatland restoration. It is hoped that the Peatland Code will follow the path set down by the Woodland Carbon Code by achieving full ISO14065 audit status, and having its credits listed on the internationally recognised Markit Registry. 

Case study – Dryhope, Selkirkshire 

This September, the first Peatland Code registered restoration project, at Dryhope, Selkirkshire, achieved validation. Piloted though the process by leading Woodland Carbon Code project developer Forest Carbon, the emissions benefit of the restoration activities at Dryhope was quantified and checked against the requirements of the Peatland Code by an independent certification body. Forest Carbon worked in conjunction with Tweed Forum, who managed the successful implementation of the restoration work. The restoration project was funded via SNH Peatland Action Fund and SRDP alongside carbon funding. 

Committing to the Peatland Code validation process signalled both the quality of the project and commitment of the land owner, Philiphaugh Trust, to deliver the expected benefits over time. It ultimately resulted in an investment in the emissions benefit by long-time Forest Carbon partner NEX Group in recognition of their 2017/18 carbon footprint. NEX Group have led the way in land-based CSR mechanisms over the past few years being among the first to invest in the Woodland Carbon Code and now the Peatland Code. Although pioneering in the area NEX Group makes only one small reference to their activities – in their Annual Reports – as they see carbon mitigation as a minimum requirement for doing business. 

By attracting carbon finance, the restoration project at Dryhope has ensured that it will remain well managed and maintained for the next 45 years. This is crucial to protecting the initial investment of drainage ditch blocking and hagg reprofiling and putting the peatland landscape firmly on the path to good ecological condition. It is this long-term view that will result in the delivery of real ecosystem service provision within the wider catchment. In recognition of this, the project won the 2018 Scottish Land and Estates Environment Award, sponsored by Bell Ingram. 

The blanket bog at Dryhope retains, releases and filters the water that flows down the Kirkstead burn into St Mary’s Loch and from there into the Yarrow Water, a tributary of the Tweed. The Kirkstead burn is one of many vital spawning burns for trout and salmon in the upper Tweed (and in particular the rare spring salmon component). Keeping the river and its tributaries in a healthy condition is vitally important. The restoration work will also help reduce flash flooding events in the lower catchment. 

Forest Carbon are hopeful that this will be first of many restoration projects their partners will help fund under the Peatland Code. 


SNH Peatland Action 

Peatland ACTION is the project helping to restore damaged peatlands in Scotland. Since 2012, 15,000 hectares have been put on the road to recovery with funding provided by the Scottish Government. Peatlands in good health are valuable and have many benefits. SNH are currently offering pre-application advice for the next funding round. If you have a peatland restoration project that you think might be eligible and would like to speak to one of their advisors please contact them at 

Tweed Forum 

Tweed Forum was formed in 1991 “to promote the sustainable use of the whole of the Tweed catchment through holistic and integrated management and planning”. In close partnership with our members, Tweed Forum staff work to protect, enhance and restore the rich natural, built and cultural heritage of the River Tweed and its tributaries. The Forum works at both the strategic level and the project level in order to achieve tangible benefits on the ground. From our inception as an informal liaison group, we have grown to become a leader in the field of integrated land and water management. Contact: 

IUCN Peatland Code 

The Peatland Code is a voluntary standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the climate benefit of restoration. It sets out a series of best practice requirements including a standard method of quantification which when validated by an independent body will give assurance to buyers that their purchase will return verifiable climate benefit over the project duration. Contact: 

Forest Carbon 

Forest Carbon leads the way in voluntary carbon woodland creation and peatland restoration in the UK. Through the planting of over 7.5 million new trees in 135+ new woodlands in the UK since 2006 their partners’ projects are removing over 1,500,000 tonnes of CO2 from the nation’s atmosphere, as well as providing a host of other benefits to society, including flood mitigation, river improvement and public access. Contact:

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

AGM and Conference 2018

A great turnout at Stalybridge Moor
Our AGM and conference in the Peak District was a great success.  Held on 23rd October with the help and support of Moors for the Future Partnership, we had an excellent site visit to the site of this year’s wildfires at Tameside, and then on to The Huntsman Inn at Holmfirth for a line-up of outstanding speakers and discussion in the afternoon.  A brief summary of the day is available as are speakers’ slides.  
Associate Professor Andreas Heinemeyer from the University of York presented his recent research including investigating burn rotation impacts on peat carbon accumulation, which represents results from the first five years of the larger Peatland-ES-UK project (Peatland Ecosystem Services UK). This (Phase 1) work has looked at carbon accumulation rates in peat on moors which have been subject to rotational controlled burning as part of management for grouse. The study on three moors in the north of England concluded that when peat cores were examined, there was historic evidence of a net positive gain for carbon after periods of burning. This is due largely to the assimilation of charcoal into the peat formation process.  
Carbon storage is of course only one aspect of why peatland is valued. The full study which runs to 2022 will look at greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, and water retention and quality issues too, which will give a much more complete picture. 
This work is however indicating consistency with earlier findings by Heather Trust President, Professor Rob Marrs (Liverpool University) at Moor House which showed that peat formation still occurs on areas that are burned.  
Further, work undertaken by GWCT in 2017 found that blanket peat plots that had been burned more than ten years previously, had a much greater dominance of heather and pleurocarpous mosses, compared with plots that had been burned more recently. Those plots that had been burned within the last ten years had greater cover of peat-forming species, sphagnum mosses and cotton grass, which again supports earlier work by Professor Marrs at Moor House.  

Where then does this leave policy makers and practitioners in the meantime?  Natural England spoke about the development of long-term management plans, which are developed with moor owners and managers, and are a response to the requirement to the protect Blanket Bog under the European Habitats Directive (which will be remained in UK law beyond Brexit).  
The Uplands Management Group has also produced guidance materials for land managers in the form of the Blanket Bog Guidance. It is clear that many practitioners find the introduction of long-term management plans a difficult concept, but it is worth remembering that they are a move away from prescriptive top-down regulation – which could have been an option - to something more tailored, flexible and site specific, and which crucially is developed through consensus.  
A vitally important point made on the day is that we must learn from the lessons of the past and ensure policy no longer flip-flops between extreme positions of throwing incentives at one thing and banning others.  Policy which enables a variety of approaches, more local design and tailoring, and which takes account of practitioner knowledge alongside the latest science must surely point to a better way forward.
Many and grateful thanks to all who took part.

Work needed: 
* Support for the further research efforts of Professor Heinemeyer at the University of York and Dr Sian Whitehead at GWCT. 
* Continued support for the development of guidance through the Uplands’ Management Group.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Callander Peatland Event

Ditch blocking in action
The Heather Trust was delighted to support a peatland event alongside the Soil Association Scotland and ScotFAS on a hill farm near Callander last week. A range of farmers and land managers turned out for a site visit to view some ditch-blocking in action and to discuss the many advantages of re-wetting land which has undergone historical draining.

There was plenty to see on the open hill during a bright morning with fine views of snow on the high ground and black grouse on the wing. The group heard from the contractor undertaking ditch-blocking on the farm, discussing the practical "nuts and bolts" of blocking old ditches, and this conversation was balanced with funding and financial support for the work. Consensus seemed to agree that ditch blocking can be financially viable, but only where sufficient ground is covered and enough ditches are tackled. It was also useful to agree that the work which went into draining this ground in the 1960s and 70s has not been repaid with a proportionate improvement in agricultural output, and badly degraded peatland is of no use to anyone.

After some discussion from Richard Lockett (Lockett agri-environmental), Sandra Stewart (Farming & Conservation) and Emily Taylor (Crichton Carbon Centre), we also heard from George Hepburne Scott from Forest Carbon, who talked about future finance mechanisms for large scale peatland restoration work. Heather Trust Project Manager Patrick Laurie was on hand to talk about the realities of managing land for peat, drawing on the recent discussions which took place at the major wildfire sites in the Peak District as part of our AGM and conference.

Events like these are extremely valuable as we begin to convert the latest science into policy and practice, and it is crucial that farmers and land managers are brought along in discussions about the future of our uplands.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Curlew Conference

The Heather Trust is looking forward to the Scottish curlew conference in Battleby on Thursday this week. The meeting is one of a series that has been run across the UK looking at the worrying and dramatic decline of curlews which has taken place over the last three decades, and the conference has drawn in a wide range of speakers from across a number of different land-based industries. We are involved because we have strong ties to conservation in land management, and there is lots of crossover with the Working for Waders project which we have been supporting since it began this year.

Speaking ahead of the conference, organiser and campaigner Mary Colwell said: "This is serious. There is no time for complacency, no room for hand waving. Curlews are in free fall and we have to act NOW. Year after year, across the UK and Ireland, curlews fail to fledge chicks, and since holding these conferences, we, at last, have people trying to measure productivity across the UK and Ireland and then implementing actions to save them. Just counting pairs is not enough, we need to know if they are actually fledging the next generation. These conferences have been invaluable in getting groups organised and giving a structure for action. The curlew groups are made up of people across the board. Already they connect with each other to give advice and support. Only by working together will we change the fortunes of this much loved and endangered wader. In the end, this is the only thing that will reverse the decline; otherwise, all we are doing is monitoring extinction.  

Of course there is a bigger picture. Curlews are declining because of our attitude to the landscape, the way we use it and work it. Curlews provide a lens through which to view our countryside and then decide if this is really what we want.  I would guess, for the most part, the answer is no. There is alarm about declining species everywhere. So - time for change. Working for curlews focuses a laser beam of the big issues facing all of wildlife - intensive agriculture, drainage, plantations, monoculture, pesticides. All these, combined with an increase in generalists predators, means the clock is ticking for action".

There are still some free tickets available for the conference - find out more at

Friday, 14 September 2018

Peatland Events

A focus on peatland
October will be peatland month at the Heather Trust as we start to look forward to a series of events focussed on peatland management. Peatland has become a core issue for the Heather Trust over the past five years, and we work hard to raise awareness about the value of sustainable peatland management. Many moors are defined by peat, and like so many other areas of land use, healthy businesses depend upon healthy soils. Everybody wins when peat is kept in good condition, and the benefits are weighed in clean water, biodiversity, carbon storage and flood mitigation.

Peat has been extensively degraded in recent history, and the UK suffers from a combination of harmful factors which have damaged our peatlands. These factors often vary depending on geography; industrial pollution has caused devastation to peatlands in the Peak District, while commercial forestry has destroyed extensive areas of peat in western Scotland and Wales. Irish peat struggles with commercial extraction and many upland areas are now tackling the legacy of agricultural drainage and overgrazing. There is also evidence to show that inappropriate heather burning has played a part in some areas of peatland degradation, and the reality is that peat is an important resource which depends upon careful, balanced management. 

The Heather Trust’s involvement in peatland management plays perfectly with our stated aims. Peatland underlies many traditional land uses, and we are ideally positioned to help land owners and land managers to integrate peatland as part of their businesses. We work with a wide range of stakeholders from ecologists to farmers and gamekeepers to make sure that the latest research is always accessible to the people who need to implement it.

The Heather Trust is teaming up with the SRUC and IUCN UK's Peatland Programme to run an event entitled ‘Peatland's Place in the Uplands’. This half-day discussion event (9:30 – 12:00) is for anyone who is interested in managing moorland and upland environments and peatland restoration. It will give those interested in peatland restoration an insight into the decision-making process and choices available whilst also giving upland managers an insight into the case for restoring areas of deep peat on their land.

This informal walk & talk event will allow for plenty of interaction. Professor Davy McCracken, Agricultural Ecologist and Head of Hill and Mountain Research at SRUC and Anne Gray, Director of The Heather Trust will lead an open and inclusive discussion on moorland management whilst allowing attendees to explore the upland landscape being discussed.

Later in the month, we will also deliver a three day series of peatland events alongside Soil Association Scotland in three locations from Sutherland to Galloway. More information will follow on these, but the autumn is set to be busy, interesting and very peaty!

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Heather Beetle 2018

Heather beetle damage on young heather

We’ve been receiving reports of heather beetle from supporters and contacts over the last few weeks, and it is clear that the 2018 beetle season is now in full swing. We were interested to hear how the beetles would be impacted by the recent cold spring and dry summer, and now we are finding that damage is getting underway as heather begins to flower.

The Heather Trust has been leading the field in heather beetle research for the past ten years, and our beetle survey is the only formal attempt to gather information on beetle outbreaks in Britain. We have been hearing from small lowland heaths, nature reserves, farms and grouse moors across the UK since 2007, and we have amassed lots of information in that time. Last year’s survey gave us details of damage across 16,500 acres of heather moorland, from Exmoor to Sutherland, and we are now planning to pass that information over to scientists so that it can be analysed and trends can be identified. Moorland managers need up-to-date information on beetle damage, and we hope that this information will help to shed light on where and how beetle outbreaks take place.

It is important to remember that direct action to control beetle outbreaks in progress are rarely successful and can risk causing more harm than good. The Heather Trust has long argued that moorland managers should focus on restoring damage in the aftermath of an outbreak, and we have commissioned studies to explore the efficacy of different management techniques at Langholm Moor and in the Derbyshire Peak District. We are always happy to discuss management options with our members, and we offer an advisory service to provide help and guidance for anyone who needs support after an outbreak of heather beetle.

If you have seen heather beetle damage this summer, please let us know. We have a survey form to download on our website, and we have produced some basic guides to help you identify beetle damage and differentiate it from water stress, frosting and other causes. 

If you are in any doubt, please get in touch!

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship to continue long-term experiments in the British Uplands

Professor Rob Marrs, from the University of Liverpool's School of Environmental Sciences, has been
awarded a prestigious Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship to continue his groundbreaking pioneering research on the management of British upland landscapes.

Professor Marrs, who has been the Bulley Professor of Applied Plant Biology for the last 27 years and currently teaches Ecology and Environmental Science, said: "I am honoured and delighted to receive this award as it allows me to continue my experimental research on land management into retirement.  The award will allow the continuation of long-term experiments on bracken control.  Initially set up in 1993, these experiments in the Peak District (which can be seen from space) are now monitoring the speed of bracken recovery after the control measures have been stopped.  The award will provide funds for continued maintenance of these experiments, their annual monitoring and analysis of results.  It also supports very long-term experiments of Rewilding across a series of vegetation types where the effects of management removal will be compared to 'business-as-usual' management."

The work will be undertaken at the Environmental Change Network's site at Moor House National Nature Reserve in the north Pennines, where Professor Marrs has been researching for almost 40 years.  The experiments are unique in that some were set up in the mid-1950s through to 1967, but have had continued monitoring until 2016.

The award, which is for two years and starts January 2019, provides assistance of the analysis of these complex, long-term datasets and the presentation of the results at a series of conferences including local ones to inform land-managers, national ones to inform policy-makers and ecological consultants and international ones to publicise the underlying science at the global scale.

The Leverhulme application was made possible with a great deal of preparatory research over the last ten years funded by the Heather Trust.  All of the experiments within the projects are long-term intervention experiments and are included in the Ecological Continuity Trust's national inventory of important experiments.

Wellhope Syndicate enjoy visit by Professor Marrs

Wellhope Syndicate, Alston successfully bid in the Trust's Country Market & Sporting Sale for a days
consultancy visit by the eminent Professor Rob Marrs, University of Liverpool, expert on heather moorland ecology and President of The Heather Trust.

A member of the syndicate reported back: "His advice was so interesting and very useful because we are about to negotiate with Natural England, the longterm development plan for our moor.  Professor Marrs input will add a huge amount of weight to the proposition we want to include in our plan!"

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Major Wildfire at Saddleworth

Wildfire in the news
The major blaze being tackled today on Saddleworth Moor was in all likelihood avoidable says moorland charity, The Heather Trust.

The Trust’s Director, Anne Gray, comments “This wildfire is the latest and likely the most devastating of a series of wildfires that have taken hold this spring and summer across the UK. The late and very dry spring, which has meant the moisture content in vegetation is low, has provided dry fuel and with wind and a source of ignition, the inevitable has happened. While not all of these factors can be controlled, it is possible to manage moorland to reduce the risk and extent of wildfire, and we must get better at doing this”.

“The fire on Saddleworth has seen nearby houses evacuated. The risk to lives and property has to be taken seriously and is of the utmost importance. We hope no-one will be injured as a result of it. At a time when so much effort is being put into reducing and reversing carbon loss from peatbogs, it is also demoralising to think about how much carbon will have been lost due to this and other fires this year”.

The Heather Trust’s President, Professor Rob Marrs, adds “Key to managing wildfire is a functional fire danger rating system for the UK. We must get much better at warning everyone when conditions for fire are high. Coupled with this is the need to take management of the fuel stock that is moorland vegetation seriously. It is not a case of whether rank heather and scrubby vegetation will burn, but when it will burn. Moors that are managed by an appropriate mix of controlled burning, cutting and grazing will pose less of a risk.”

The Heather Trust Chair the England and Wales Wildfire Forum and are a member of the Scottish Wildfire Forum. The idea of a major Wildfire Conference in 2019 has been mooted and The Heather Trust are fully supportive of such an event.

We would like to shine a spotlight on the issues, enable a variety of views to be aired and seek solutions.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Professor Charles Gimingham

Professor Charles Gimingham 

Professor Gimingham on his 90th birthday with former Chairman of the Trust, Malcolm Hay

Professor Charles Gimingham, first President of The Heather Trust (2004-2007) has died at the grand age of 95 years.  Charles spent his entire career in the Botany Department at Aberdeen University, becoming Regius Professor of Botany in 1981 until his 'official ' retirement in 1988.

A former President of the British Ecological Society, Charles' influence on his subject was profound.  Much of what we know about the ecological processes occurring in areas like the Cairngorms and the kind of landscape that we see when we visit them can be traced back to Charles' work and influence.  As one of the leading experts on heathland ecology Charles can rightly claim responsibility for inspiring several generations of ecologists.

Our condolences to his family at this sad time.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Peatland Biodiversity

Emperor moths thrive in healthy peatland habitats

As we continue to focus on peatland management, we asked Rebecca Crawford of Butterfly Conservation Scotland for a few words on peatland biodiversity - one of the many fascinating aspects of healthy peatland.

Scotland is a nation rich in peatlands which provide a home for a wide variety of highly specialised animals and plants. Many peat bogs in Scotland are known as “mosses” due to the Sphagnum moss which is found on them. Sphagnum moss is one of the most important elements of a healthy peatland, also know as the bog builder. It holds huge amounts of water, much like a sponge, which helps to keep the peat bog wet and also helps to acidify the soil. Its decayed remains eventually turn into new peat which forms under the surface of the bog in oxygen depleted conditions.

Peat can take thousands of years to form and is a vital carbon store, sealing in the carbon that is normally released into the atmosphere when plants decay. When peat bogs dry out the carbon can be released back into the atmosphere. In Scotland it has been estimated that the carbon stored in our peatlands equates to 100s of years’ worth of the country’s emissions from fossil fuel use. It is therefore vitally important to protect bogs from damage and allow them to keep forming active peat and playing their key role for the climate.

There are many moths and several butterfly species that can be found on peatland habitats, some of which have declined in other areas around Scotland.

The Emperor moth is one of the largest species of moth in the UK. The brightly coloured males fly over peat bogs in April and May in search of female moths which are more grey in colour. The eye spot markings on their wings are very striking and are used to deter predators. The large Emperor caterpillars can be found on heather during late summer.

The Large Heath butterfly is the only butterfly in the UK that is specialised to peatlands. Its caterpillar uses Hare’s-tail Cotton Grass as its larval food and during the adult stage Cross-leaved Heath is important as a nectar source. The adults can be seen flying over the bog in the early summer and the colonies are only on the wing for a short time each year with the peak period in late Jun/early July. Peatland habitats are vulnerable to threats such as afforestation, drainage and peat extraction, and this makes the Large Heath highly sensitive to peatland loss. Through peatland restoration we can help to safeguard these habitats for future populations.

The Bog Squad is a Peatland Action funded project managed by Butterfly Conservation Scotland that aims to help restore peatland habitats and promote their value as places where wildlife can thrive.
Our restoration work is aimed at re-wetting damaged bogs, so that natural flora and fauna can thrive and peat formation can take place again in the future. We dam ditches, remove scrub and pull up conifer seedlings. We also carry out monitoring of butterflies and moths. A new strand of the project – Peatlands for People – is helping to raise awareness about peatland habitats and their importance to communities across Scotland.

Find out more about the project by emailing:

* Rebecca Crawford – Peatlands for People –
* David Hill – Peatland Restoration -

* Or visit our blog

Rebecca Crawford works for Butterfly Conservation Scotland as a Peatlands for People Project Officer. Butterfly Conservation Scotland is a charity dedicated to conserving butterflies, moths and our environment. 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Regional Decision-Making and Budgets post-CAP?

The Moorland Forum at Carsphairn last week

Last Friday, Scotland’s Moorland Forum held its summer away day at Carsphairn in Southwest Scotland. For many this is traditional hill sheep country, but in more recent years tensions have emerged between forestry (trees grow pretty well in this part of Scotland) and renewable energy, tourism and environmental management such as peatland restoration. 

Carsphairn is also in Scotland’s first designated biosphere ( The ideal place then to discuss the future of land use in Scotland and what role regional decision-making might play. The Heather Trust’s Director, Anne Gray, gives her thoughts below -

You just had to listen to the views being presented by the local population at Carsphairn to know that land matters to more than those who own and manage it. It matters because how land is used impacts jobs, local prosperity and quality of life. It affects flood management and water quality, biodiversity, landscapes, recreation opportunities, tourism and mental health to name but a few - the list goes on. Land management can impact these things in a positive way or a negative way depending on how it is done, and there are trade-offs. You can’t get everything from every piece of land - decisions are required. Who should make these decisions is perhaps the trickiest question faced by rural policymakers today.

On the one hand you could say that those who own and manage the land should make the decisions, but then many land uses have been (and continue to be) supported by the public purse, so government surely must have a say in how that money is spent. And if, as above, land use matters to those in its vicinity, then shouldn’t their views should be considered too? Plus, to get better outcomes for some environmental agendas such as reversing declines in nature and better managing flooding, then acting collaboratively across a river catchment or some large area involving a number of farms and estates needs to occur. The question is perhaps not so much “who should make the decisions?”, as “where does everyone fit into the decisions?”

Scotland’s Land Use Strategy, born from the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, recognises that tensions exist between different land uses and that trade-offs need to happen if we are truly to find a way to do sustainable development. The Strategy sets out to find ways in which decisions can be reached. The first Strategy (2011-15) focused on running two Land Use pilots, one in the Scottish Borders and the other in Aberdeenshire. Although each approached things in their own way, the outputs were around mapping the various uses that land in the area could be put to whether or not these represented economically viable choices at that stage – “Opportunity Maps”. This shone a spotlight on the type of management that would need support from somewhere other than traditional markets.

The second Strategy (2016-2021) proposes to take this work to the next stage through the piloting of Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs) which would decide how to priorities the various “opportunities” available. How these partnerships would operate and the level of decision-making they would undertake is not yet clear, but the pilots provide a chance to explore this.

After a day’s discussion both in Carsphairn Village Hall and out on the hill, the conclusions that the Moorland Forum’s summer visit reached were that –

National Level – was where high level objectives for land should be set by government.
Regional Level - was where regional partnerships could decide how their region would best deliver national objectives, while considering regional issues and priorities. Budgets would be held at this level.
Local Level – was where farmers, owners and managers would work with agencies such as SNH, RPID, SEPA (better if they could work as one) to develop local delivery plans which met the regional priorities.

The process might look something like the below -

Regional partnerships don’t need to be created afresh necessarily, there are existing partnerships that already bring the various interests together and could do the job. The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere was an obvious example discussed at Carsphairn. The Tweed Forum in the Borders is another. National parks, deer management groups (provided they could expand their remit) might also work well, since they already operate at scale and collaboratively.

As we move into a post-Brexit era with the challenges that will bring for rural policy and rural funding, now might be a good time to start testing whether effective land use decisions can be made through regional partnerships. If discussion last Friday is anything to go by, there is certainly plenty of appetite for it.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Caring for Chicks

Grouse chicks have specific habitat requirements
As broods of young grouse begin to hatch out across the hills, it’s a good moment to look back through some of the work the Heather Trust has done on habitat management techniques for brood rearing over the past few years.

Several keepers have found that traditional grouse moor management is no longer viable in many areas, and there has been a big push to discover new and innovative ways to produce grouse. Some of this work has been undertaken by cutting heather, and this has opened up a whole new side to heather management in which carefully customised habitat design can work to reduce chick mortality and shift the moorland environment in favour of young birds.

On Speyside, British Moorlands have worked hard to keep grouse chicks safe from predators by cutting in long, narrow strips across the hillside. This means that cover and security are never far away, and young birds can quickly escape into thicker heather when predators arrive. This theory also suggests that narrow cuts through mature heather can “trap” insects which are blown on the wind, and informal studies have shown that cuts provide just as much crucial insect life for chicks as traditional fires burnt over larger areas.

Cutting through mature heather also allows chicks to get access to mature blaeberry plants which are associated with a rich diversity of caterpillars and grubs. This aligns with work undertaken by the Welsh Wildlife Trust near Denbigh which has cut through areas of mature heather to improve access to insects for young black grouse. 2018 has seen a cold, dry spring in many areas, and a general shortage of insect life may prove to be telling later in the summer when broods are being counted before the shooting season opens.

Further south in Cheshire, Heather Trust board member Richard May has been working on “Maze Cutting”, which includes customised “lay-bys” and loops in areas of managed heather so that young birds have somewhere to dry out in periods of wet, windy weather. A little imaginative thinking can really start to “tweak” wider habitat management plans in favour of groundnesting birds, and while these often feel like small details, we believe that they can deliver a big impact when seen as a whole.

The Heather Trust showcases the work put in by moorland owners and keepers in order to generate discussion around new techniques and ideas to boost productivity. A good deal of this information was fed into the Moorland Forum’s Principles of Moorland Management guidance which will soon be published to establish something like “Best Practice” guidelines for heather management.

Read our heather cutting guidance HERE and find out more information about Dick Bartlett’s work at Thanks to Dick Bartlett and Heather Trust Board Member Richard May for their input on this article.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Wildfire Risk Remains High

Wildfire at Loch Carron last night (28th May)

This weekend has seen a number of wildfire outbreaks across the UK’s uplands, most notably in the Peak District and the North West Highlands. Simon Thorp, Consultant to the Heather Trust and Chairman of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum, and a member of the Scottish Wildfire Forum Executive Committee warns that the risk remains high while “ideal” conditions prevail. 

While those in the south have been suffering from thunderstorms and flash flooding, those in the north and west have been enjoying hot, dry weather. The cold, wet days of April suddenly seem to be a long way in the past.

An unwelcome consequence of the hot, dry conditions is the increasing threat from wildfire. For a fire to start and spread, three conditions are required: dry fuel, wind, and a source of ignition. With the late Spring this year, plants have only just started to grow and therefore their moisture content is low – ideal for burning. The recent windy conditions mean fire will spread easily and the glorious sun and blue-sky conditions during this recent holiday period have attracted many people into our upland and moorland areas to provide the source of ignition. That is not to say that igniting fires is always deliberate, but it is often careless. In the words of Bruce Farquharson, Local Senior Officer at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, many of the fires that the SFRS have had to deal with recently were preventable.

The current conditions are forecast to exist until Friday this week, but that is not to say they will not return to the north and west, next week, or appear in another part of the country. At this time of year, the heat in the sun quickly removes any surface moisture after rain to restore the risk levels. The wildfire risk will only really decrease as the vegetation starts to provide new growth with a high moisture content.

This year wildfires have occurred all over the UK – this is not just a Scottish problem. For example, fires have been reported in: Wales, Surrey, Dorset, Dartmoor, the South and North Pennines and the North York Moors.

While the damage to moorland and upland vegetation might be minimal in the longer term, as it normally recovers quickly, we must not forget the risk to people and property from the fire and to the firefighters who are called upon to put it out, or at least contain it, with the associated costs. We have been lucky in the UK that no-one has been killed recently in a wildfire, but we should not be complacent; there have been some close calls and someone’s luck will run out one day.

It is an accepted fact that most wildfires are started by people. The discarded cigarette is the catch-all ignition source but there are many others, including barbecues. Until conditions change, the message must be for anyone working or visiting our moorland and upland areas to exercise extreme caution and avoid starting fires.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Health and Harmony … and Heather

This Tuesday was the deadline for responses to DEFRA’s Health and Harmony Consultation on the future of farming and rural support post-CAP.  Although we are not a lobbying organisation, so important is farming and rural development policy to the UK’s moorlands and uplands we put in a response and we also contributed to the Uplands Alliance response as well.  

We focussed our answers on the questions relevant to our areas of interest and expertise, so the agricultural transition, public money for public goods and resilience in the uplands.

The consultation document specifically recognised that the UK’s uplands and other remote rural areas have specific challenges around fragility and are less resilient economically, but that they are places rich in natural and cultural heritage and have a character of “wildness” that is loved.  

It is clear DEFRA understand that they need to think carefully about the impact of policy changes on the uplands since these areas will find it more difficult to adapt, but they also know they need a deeper understanding of why this is the case.  The Heather Trust were, just last week, down in London as part of a group of uplands interests that met DEFRA officials to provide that insight.

The main points we were able to communicate at the meeting and in our response were -

  •  A welcoming of the desire to create a more rational approach to agricultural and environmental support;
  • Concern with the premise that Direct Payments for agricultural activity should reduce to enable transition to environment payments - because, in upland and moorland areas, it is often the farming activity itself that provides environmental and cultural public goods;
  • Acknowledgement that more can be done to deliver for the environment in upland and moorland areas, but that the activity that will deliver these outcomes will be different in the uplands compared to the lowlands and approaches must be tailored to reflect this;
  • A desire to see government push on with trials and pilots so that the many questions about how change might affect the uplands can start to be answered;
  • ... and trials and pilots should come before direct payment reductions, not least because farmers and land managers are coming together to propose pilots, and that impetus must not be lost over worry about potential temporary funding shortfalls;
  • An outline for the new approach which sees strategic objectives for public goods set by national government, but with delivery prioritised regionally and deliver plans agreed with individuals and collaborative groups – top-down strategy, but bottom-up design and delivery;
  • The importance of much longer-term agreements but with regular reviews, so that farmers and land managers can agree variations to delivery where they see a better outcome is possible.
  • Support for a focus on outcomes, airing a note of caution that payment by results needs to take account of the factors that might impact results, but which are not within the control of the farmer or land manager.
  • Highlighting the need for facilitation and “the honest broker” role to assist collaboration where this is needed.