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.