Monday, 28 January 2019

New year and new plans at The Heather Trust

By Anne Gray, Director

I ended 2018 with a blog thanking all of you who helped us develop our new Strategic Plan.  This is now in place and we start 2019 getting down to the nitty-gritty detail of delivery.  Our Plan can be summarised as follows:

  • Deliver a Heather Trust roadshow of seven discussion/debate events across GB looking at different perspectives on what our uplands look like and what they should deliver, with a final showcase event to coincide with our AGM in October
  • Develop issue-specific training events 1) on heather management techniques and 2) on ecology, hydrology and the carbon cycle for moorland managers
  • Deliver a feasibility study/scoping report on a State of GB Moorlands report
  • Promote existing and new good practice guidance and policy briefings
  • Continue to facilitate Scotland’s Moorland Forum and the Working for Waders Initiative
  •  Develop a Communications Strategy for the Trust
  •  Improve our fundraising activity
  •  Run our Country Market and Sporting Sale 2019
  • Produce our 2019 annual report
  • Support small-scale research through our small grants funding

I am particularly looking forward to our discussion and debate events on the future of our uplands.  It feels like we are at a pivotal moment.  There are many different perspectives on how Britain’s uplands should look and what they should be used to deliver.  This, loosely speaking, ranges from those who would like to see the continuation of “traditional” management for farming and sporting interests - with the particular mix of wildlife, rural jobs and communities this supports - through to those who advocate what has become termed “rewilding” with its alternative case to deliver for people and the natural environment.

These two perspectives are often presented in a very polarised way by the media and this can fuel further division.  However, there are many steps and stages between these two positions, and indeed other agendas such as renewable energy to take account of.  For many people the portrayal of one as “all good” and the other as “all bad” is neither helpful nor realistic.

The debate is gathering pace however, it is no longer an academic discussion.  How land is used and managed to take better account of the natural environment is the focus of government post-Brexit agricultural and environmental policy.  Whether through incentive or regulation, the policy decisions taken in the coming months will shape the future choices open to many of those who own and manage our uplands.

At the end of last week, I was invited to visit College Valley Estate in Northumberland.  The estate has, for many years, had a focus on conservation and the natural environment and has carried out this work hand-in-hand with tenant farming, forestry operations and some small shooting interest.  This commercial activity helps the estate support itself financially, albeit it is the Rural Development Programme England and its predecessor Countryside Stewardship schemes that have enabled most of what has been achieved.  It is striking how closely its operating model reflects the Westminster Government’s vision for future land management support.

Each region of Britain of course has its own issues and priorities and the mix of things pertinent in drier, sparsely populated, north Northumberland will vary to those further west in the wetter, urban-fringe Peak District or on Exmoor for example.  One of the exciting things about our roadshow will be the opportunity to capture and record this variety, which certainly matters to the success of any new land management scheme.  A system, that is flexible enough to embrace variety and diversity, rather than the prescriptive agri-environment schemes of the past, has been promised and is undoubtedly required.

We hope you can join us for an event near you this year.  Details will be out soon…