Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Keith McDougall 1934-2016

Photo: The Telegraph
It is with sadness I report that Keith McDougall has died at the age of 82.  An obituary was published in The Telegraph, last week, and this correctly records Keith's enthusiasm for all matters relating to conservation and upland farming.

Keith was a long standing member of The Heather Trust and one of the most active members.  He did not make the transition to the electronic age, but a steady flow of letters and correspondence cards served to keep me on my toes; the last one arrived here on the day that he died.  They were welcome as they came from someone with a great understanding of what the Trust is about and strives to achieve.  I suspect that the flow of correspondence was consistent across a range of organisations and this impressive level of input will be missed.

Friday, 2 September 2016

The National Trust and Thorneythwaite

I am a long term supporter of the National Trust, but I am also a passionate supporter of the role played by farmers in the management of the uplands and in their support for local communities.

I had some input into the recent revision of the National sheep Association's publication: The Complementary Role of sheep in Upland and Hill Areas which endorses the value that sheep and sheep farmers bring to remote rural areas.

The National Trust's activities in Cumbria cut across the principles that the NSA has espoused in this publication.  The background to this spat has been neatly summarised by Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance in his Editorial published this morning.  I fully support his views.  For convenience I repeat the text of the editorial below.

The National Trust and Thorneythwaite

The National Trust is a huge organisation which owns both very large numbers of historic and important buildings and swathes of wonderful countryside. Its long record of preserving the nation's heritage is extraordinary and across its vast estate it would be ludicrous to expect every decision it makes to please everyone.

The current outcry over the Trust's decision to purchase land at Thorneythwaite Farm in Borrowdale, Cumbria at an inflated price, and in doing so prevent local farmers from maintaining the farm as a traditional domestic agricultural holding, may however be more than just a disagreement. Underlying the concern stated so clearly by the local farming community and its supporters like Lord Bragg is a feeling that the Trust consciously, or more likely unconsciously, has adopted a part of the modern environmentalist creed which suggests that human input into the countryside is in nearly all ways negative and should be minimised.

Rather than celebrating the fact that nearly every landscape in our islands was created, and has been maintained, by generations of farmers this ideology believes that farmers are a problem, and that radically different management with less intervention is preferable. This would obviously not conserve the countryside in its current form but radically change it both by altering landscapes and, crucially, removing the role of the the indigenous population. People are not a fashionable concern amongst these environmentalists, but the countryside is not just a collection of fields, woods and fells viewed from a train window. It is every bit as much about the communities who live and work in that landscape.

The National Trust should, and largely does, understand this, but in Borrowdale it has made a mistake. I hope that it is big enough to admit that, to negotiate with the new owners of the farm buildings at Thorneythwaite to put the farm back together and, most importantly, to put the rural community back at the centre of its decision making processes. It has as much of a duty to conserve the community that created the Cumbrian landscape as it does to conserve that landscape itself.

Tim Bonner
Chief Executive
Follow me on Twitter @CA_TimB

Thursday, 25 August 2016

GWCT: 2016 Grouse Season Briefing

As the grouse season gets into full swing, GWCT has published a briefing that provides a useful summary of their 2016 grouse counts.  It also covers their leadership on a range of moorland and upland research and their input into other initiatives, that includes the projects I am running for Scotland's Moorland Forum.

Bracken as a Biofuel and Cutting Demonstrations

Sticking with the bracken theme established by the previous post, Oakland Biofuels Ltd is promoting the ability to produce bio-ethanol from bracken.  One of the challenges for using bracken as a crop is how to harvest it - bracken often grows on steep and inaccessible ground - but Oakland Biofuels think they have an answer.  The company is running a series of events to demonstrate some very capable, German equipment to help with the harvesting.

Thursday, 01 September 2016
Shapley Common, Dartmoor
Monday, 05 September 2016
Dinas Mawwdwy, Wales SY20 9LX
Wednesday, 07 September 2016
Annandale, Dumfries-shire
Friday, 09 September 2016
Blair Atholl, Perthshire

Scottish Land & Estates is promoting the events in Scotland and their website has more details about the Scottish events and it also includes more background information about the harvesting opportunities and links to videos showing the impressive capabilities of the harvesting equipment.  

If you would like to attend any of these events, please register your interest with Jeremy Oakley at Oakland Biofuels Ltd:

Tel: 01686 651370
Email:  oakley552@btinternet.com

Bracken for heating

Brackenburn is producing braquettes from harvested bracken, which burn hotter than oak and produce ash with a high potash content.   It's a nice idea to turn a problem into a crop that pays for the harvesting and produces something that heats your home.

Today's edition of Farming Today had a piece (03:25 - 07:45) about Brackenburn that included an interview with Barry Smith, and to learn more about this product, visit the website.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Petition: Protect Grouse Moors and Grouse shooting

Revised 24 August

Whatever your perceptions about grouse shooting, I urge you to consider the Countryside Alliance briefing 'Grouse Shooting - the Facts' that is promoted by this petition.  This briefing was prepared by the Countryside Alliance as part of the build up to the start of the grouse season on 12th August, with a view to introducing some factual information into the debate.

Management for grouse may not be perfect, but it is reacting to change brought about by increasing knowledge and understanding of the importance of moorland beyond simply producing grouse.  For example, the move to enhance peatland, and the embracing of management for the benefit of moorland waders.  

In my travels around the country, I witness the passion and knowledge of grouse keepers at first hand; they are a force for good and worthy of support.

It is interesting to look at the interactive map of where the petition has been signed.  There are some interesting hotspots and very few areas where the petition has not received any support.  As I started to write this article, the petition had 9,649 - it has gone up by 13 since then.  It is on track to achieve the threshold of 10,000 signatures required to achieve a response from the government.

The introductory page is here and the petition runs for six months, until 15 February 2017.  If you have not already signed the petition, I recommend it to you.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Don't let eco-zealots wreck this chance to save the hen harrier

Philip Merricks is chairman of the Hawk and Owl Trust, manager of two National Nature Reserves, and of two former RSPB reserves. He was appointed MBE in 1999 for services to conservation.  Read his article in The Telegraph

It is a pleasure to read an article in this vexed area that I can endorse unreservedly.  We need the balanced approach set out in this article to bring different views together and achieve some consensus.  Philip describes the approach of eco-zealots, or perhaps eco-terrorists, and the harm they can do.  

I emphasise a key point from the article: "To alienate those who manage the overwhelming proportion of the habitats of birds of prey is a huge mistake. Conservationists need farmers, landowners and gamekeepers on side, for it is they alone who have the ability to manage the majority of the countryside and its wildlife."  

The importance of the role played by farmers, landowners and gamekeepers in delivering the uplands and moorlands we all want is driving my thinking about the world we want to see post-Brexit. It is easy to criticise upland and moorland management; it will never be perfect, but the detractors are not able to come up with a better, viable model that meets all the requirements of: conservation, communities, ecosystem services, landscape, tourism, employment, income generation, access, and all the other potentially conflicting challenges.

If I agreed with you, we would both be wrong! Just because someone has a different view, does not mean they are wrong.  We need to work together, with respect for other views, with a clear view of the best way to achieve agreed objectives.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Wildfire Risk - southern, central and eastern areas of England

The Met Office has issued a yellow wildfire alert - the forecast high temperatures over the next couple of days are expected to produce an elevated risk of wildfires, particularly across southern, central and eastern areas of England.

The photo shows the situation tomorrow (Tuesday).  The light brown area is an indication of an area of very high Fire Severity Index (FSI).  There is more detail about the FSI, and how it is calculated, on the MetOffice website.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Golden Plover Award 2016 - the winner is announced

Winner: The Hopes Estate

Adam Smith and I are delighted to announce that The Hopes Estate is the winner of the Heather Trust and GWCT Golden Plover Award 2016. 

Adam and I would like to congratulate Robbie Douglas-Miller, his Gamekeepers: Ian Elliott and Julian Bond, and the farm manager Gordon Kerr, and we look forward to presenting the award to the estate at the Scottish Game Fair on Friday.  Sadly, Robbie Douglas-Miller cannot be with us, but the estate to be well-represented by the rest of the team.

Adam and I visited all four, shortlisted estates together during June, and some details we gathered during the visits are on the Award's website.

We were delighted by the standards of management we were shown and there was strong competition for the award.  There can be only one winner, but we would like to acknowledge the high quality of the other applications.

Sponsored by:

Scottish Game Fair

The Heather Trust will be appearing in strength at the Scottish Game Fair this Friday, 1st July.  Our chairman, Antony Braithwaite, Anne, Patrick and I will be there throughout the day and the highlight of our day will be the Golden Plover Award, which takes place at 4.30pm.

We do not have a stand, but if you are going to be at the Fair and would like to meet one, or even all of us, please let me know so that we can arrange something.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Golden Plover Award - update

Adam Smith and I have reached our decision and the winner of this year's award will be announced on Monday.  Deciding on the winner has not been easy previously due to the stiff competition, and this year has not been different.  However, we think we have a worthy winner.

Details of the four shortlisted applicants are on the Award website and all of them will be represented at the presentation of the Award, which takes place at the Scottish Game Fair at 16:30 on Friday, 1st July.

We are grateful for the support from a great many people who have shown an interest in this award, and the sponsorship from Lindsays.

Bracken: Frond or foe? - 09:30-13:30, 12 July 2016, Dinnet, Aberdeenshire

This event is being organised by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and will include some short presentations followed by equipment demonstrations. I am giving one of the presentations on behalf of the Bracken Control Group and PDG will be providing a helicopter demonstration. 

See the flyer for more details about the event and how to apply. 

Priority will be given to attendance by people from within the National Park.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Golden Plover Award - Judging in progress

A scene from the GPA tour 2016 - all in a day's work!
Adam Smith (Director Scotland for GWCT) and I have started our tour of Scotland to visit the shortlisted applicants for the Golden Plover Award. We visited Candacraig Estate in Aberdeenshire last Thursday, and then two estates on Friday: Cawdor near Forres and Phoines near Dalwhinnie.  We will be visiting The Hopes Estate at Gifford in the Lammermuirs on Thursday, this week.  

The visits have served to confirm that Adam and I will be challenged when trying to choose a winner, but we will announce this in the week commencing 26 June. We look forward to seeing representatives from all the shortlisted applicants for the award ceremony which takes place at the Scottish Game Fair on Friday 1 July, starting at 16:30.

HT Board Members at the GWCT Scottish Demonstration Farm

Looking down on the farm from Dinnet Moor
Adam Smith invited fellow HT Board members to visit the Scottish Demonstration Farm at Auchnerran that he runs for GWCT. Malcolm Hay and Dick Birnie joined me for this visit on Thursday, 9 June.  The farm is located north of Dinnet and is just outside the Cairngorms National park.  Adam gave us a tour of the low ground farm and took us up the hill onto Dinnet Moor to view the farm from above.

What to do with the boggy bits?
There is much more information about the farm on the GWCT website.  We were struck by the size of the challenge that GWCT has taken on, as there is a lot of work required to get control of the farm and then develop the systems to demonstrate the GWCT management techniques.  I believe it is just the right thing for GWCT to be doing and I look forward to providing any possible support in this venture.  As I have often said, we do not use demonstration events enough; here GWCT has gone one step further and they will be able to demonstrate their own management.  

From an HT perspective, the link to the adjoining Dinnet Moor is important.  It will allow the farm systems to work across the low ground - moorland boundary which is how similar farms operate in practice, and it also reflects the way that nature and natural systems work.

I will be back at Auchnerran on 12 July, when I am helping the Cairngorms National Park Authority to run a bracken control event.  Details about this event are just being finalised and I will add a post about the event shortly.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

England & Wales Wildfire Forum - appointed as Chairman

I attended the EWWF meeting that took place in Cardiff on Tuesday.  At the close of the meeting, Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett formally stepped down from his position as EWWF Chair in preparation for his retirement from Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service, in early July 2016.

I am delighted to report that I was appointed as the new Chairman, with unanimous agreement from all those present.  Andrew Thomas, Assistant Chief Fire Officer of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, was appointed as the Vice Chair of the EWWF.

I believe that the threat posed by wildfire is increasing and therefore this is an important time for the wildfire forum, and I look forward to working with the Scottish Wildfire Forum and similar organisations that operate in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.  I am pleased that Andrew Thomas  has been appointed as Vive-Chairman as it is important that good links are maintained with the Fire & Rescue Services.

I was delighted that following the recent transfer of responsibility for wildfire to their jurisdiction, The Home Office was represented for the first time at the Forum meeting.  We also welcomed the attendance from The Cabinet Office, which is an important link to maintain with regard to risk planning.

I look forward to working with the range of organisations that are represented on the Forum and I am grateful for their support.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Wildfire in Kirkcowan, Dumfries & Galloway

Photo: Scottish Fire & Rescue Service
I go away to Wales for a meeting of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum and this happens on my doorstep!  See the report in the Daily Record.

The rain that is now forecast for the second half of this week will dampen things down and it is maybe a good thing.  Not often we say that about rain, but vegetation has become very dry and although this year's growth is getting established on moorland, it has not yet greened up enough to reduce the wildfire risk.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Golden Plover Award 2016 - The Shortlist

A print of a Golden Plover by the renowned artist, Colin Woolf 
is awarded to the winner

Adam Smith and I have selected four estates to form the shortlist for the Golden Plover Award.  We will be visiting all four estates in the next 10 days to select the winner.  Full details of all the applicants will be placed on the Golden Plover Award website, after the visits have been completed, and we will announce the winner during the week commencing 27th June.

The award ceremony will take place at the Scottish Game Fair at 16:30 on Friday, 1st July.

To be eligible for the 2016 award, in addition to demonstrating innovative moorland management, applicants have been asked to demonstrate how they incorporate sheep farming into the management of moorland.

The shortlist comprises the following estates:

  • Candacraig, Strathdon
  • Cawdor, Nairn
  • Phones, Dalwhinnie and
  • The Hopes, Gifford.

Visit to College Valley, Northumberland

Invading Sitka Spruce in the shadow of The Cheviot

I was delighted to visit College Valley again, yesterday.  It was one of a series of visits as part of our Monitor Moors project that seeks to monitor the progress of a range of different moors throughout the country.

College Valley is going through a period of change with the removal of some woodland and a reduction in the grazing levels and it is facing a challenge from invading Sitka Spruce, the result of reduced grazing levels, being in competition with heather management.

What sets this estate out from others is that it is in altruistic ownership.  It is managed by a Board of Directors whose duty is to manage it in a way that increases its value as an environmental, social and economic place of excellence.  Therefore, it is managed for the benefit of all moorland interests and the estate is prepared to introduce novel management practices that other estates may not have not been able to consider.

I will be providing a longer write up in the Trust's Annual Report, this year, and there is a good chance that we will be holding the Trust's AGM in College Valley, in October this year.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Wildfire in the Peak District

The Peak District Moorland Group's Facebook page has some images, video clips and other information about the wildfire that occurred on Howden Moor, near Ladybower reservoir,  yesterday.

Anyone wanting to see the devastation to moorland caused by these incidents should have a look at this Facebook page. A click on the photos will enlarge them and give access to the comments added by the Moorland Group - they speak for themselves.

There is an interesting debate about the management of moorland developing in the comments that have been added to Facebook.  The National Trust is being criticised for the lack of heather management but it has also been pointed out that there is no fire without a source of ignition and the three main sources are men, women and children.

Some of the areas of the moor in the photos appear to have been managed recently, probably by burning, and I guess that these areas are on land that is managed for grouse shooting.  The photos show how the fire has not affected these areas.  This is a demonstration of the point that we need to plan for wildfire as part of our management of moorland.  You do not have to shoot grouse to manage moorland properly, and management should include the construction of firebreaks to provide stops for wildfire and also to allow access for firefighting.  Firebreaks will also add vegetation diversity that will increase the value of moorland to a range of plant, bird and animal species.

Firebreaks do not have to be motorways cut or burned in ugly, straight lines across moorland; they can be formed to follow the landscape and add visual diversity.

My work with the England & Wales Wildfire Forum is plagued by short-term memories.  At this time of year, while the smoke is rising, the wildfire challenge appears to be possible to address, but the solutions drift away as soon as the rain starts to fall.  

We should acknowledge the hard graft put in by all those involved in fighting these fires, and the risks that they face.  We must also understand their frustration that with more thought, and better planning, much of this effort would not be necessary.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

England: Wildfire in the news

With the outbreak of summer across the country has come a rash of wildfires, and the associated images of fires lighting up the sky and Fire & Rescue Service personnel working in, what for many, are unfamiliar conditions.

It is a great concern that a lot of the fire fighting effort comes as a result of acts of stupidity.  A fire near Ladybower Reservoir was started by a disposable barbecue.  See the Derbyshire Times report.  A member of the firefighting team had to be evacuated by helicopter after their all-terrain vehicle overturned.

Near Darwen, in Lancashire, it is believed that a large wildfire was started by arsonists.  See the report in the Daily Star.

Ilkley Moor also suffered a wildfire, and this was on a steep bank that made it difficult to tackle.  BBC News has a report of this incident.

These incidents prove that wildfire is a real risk, particularly at this time of year. Efforts to raise awareness of the dangers associated with wildfire tend to fall on deaf ears at other times of the year, but we need to learn the lessons about wildfire and make better efforts to plan for them so that we can minimise their impact when they do occur.  It is a certainty that while there are people on our moorland and open spaces, wildfires will continue to occur.

The previous post about wildfire situation in Scotland states that, "We have a forecast of settled dry, warm and at times windy conditions over the next week. We therefore ask people to be vigilant and act responsibly while this period of weather affects the country".  This applies equally to England.