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.