Saturday, 18 February 2017

Muirburn Code Review

This Muirburn Code Review has been the focus of the Trust's activity in the last 10 days.  We have run two workshops and have one more to do near Huntly, on Tuesday. After this we will reflect on the feedback we have received and will be presenting this at a final workshop on 14th March at Battleby, SNH's conference centre near Perth.

This review started several years ago with a critique of the existing Code and I have been running the review process since January, last year.  Activity is reaching a crescendo, as the aim is to get the text agreed by the end of March so that the Code can be launched over the Summer, perhaps with some promotion activity.  The draft Code is available on its own website ( and this will be 'beautified' when the text has been finalised to include graphics, photographs and perhaps some videos.

In my view, the publication of the Code will mark the start of a process to bring muirburn up to date with the latest knowledge of fire behaviour, improved fire management techniques, coordinating fire science research and possibly the introduction of more formal training and accreditation for practitioners.  This won't take long!

Keep up to date by following the Muirburn Code Review Blog.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum

I attended the latest meeting of this Forum in London, on Thursday, last week. The Trust is a founder member of this Forum, which was set up by Defra in 2012; it aims to bring together all the interests with a stake in the English uplands.

Meeting Outline
I provided an update on the Trust's work with the Uplands Management Group (T&F Groups working); Bracken Control (Asulam available in 2017); and the England & Wales Wildfire Forum (Wildfire Risk Assessment nearly ready to publish, Wildfire conference being proposed in Dorset - November 2017) and

We then covered the development of the 25-year plans for the Environment and Food, Farming & Fishing, which is a major policy undertaking for Defra, especially so, since the Brexit vote.  We also discussed the development of the Natural Capital Approach that is a new kid on the block.  The feeling of the meeting was that while Natural Capital was an interesting concept, it will not raise interest from the owners and managers of land until there is some incentive for completing a Natural Capital Plan.  Until then, this is an interesting topic for the policy and research communities that has little practical application.

The exception to the lack of application is the National Trust's initiative outlined in the Green Alliance's report New Markets for Land and Nature, which introduces a proposed Natural Infrastructure Scheme.  This was outlined during the meeting and while it is clearly fraught with difficulty, the National Trust is to be applauded for taking the plunge and investing time and effort in this.  It might provide a model to develop further.

Forum Governance
I have my reservations about this Forum, as I think it has lost its way, recently.  I hope that Defra will provide the time and energy that it deserves and needs to get it back on track.  We need a place where people can come together to discuss views and ideas and help Defra, and the other governement agencies, to develop policy that will be relevant to the stakeholders that members of the Forum represent.

To take full advantage of the meetings they should be an opportunity for discussion to draw on the knowledge and experience of the members of the Forum.  They should not just be a vehicle to present the government's solutions that have already been decided.

The Forum should provide an opportunity to engage with stakeholder views.  After all, until stakeholders are encouraged, coerced or paid to do something different, nothing will happen and all policy initiatives are a waste of effort. Stakeholders are the delivery mechanism and need to be treated with intelligence and respect!

Preparing for the laser launch at Auchnerran

GWCT is setting up a Laser Fence Project at the Game and Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm, Auchnerran. The laser system is very effective in dispersing bird species, however little or no research has been carried out on the effects these lasers will have on mammal species movements and behaviour.

There is more information on the GWCT blog.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Wildfire in Chile - it could not happen here, or could it?

During 2017, I will be continuing to work with the members of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum and the Scottish Wildfire Forum to raise the profile of the wildfire risk in the UK and to increase our level of preparedness.

See the BBC News report for some footage from Valparaiso, Chile of what a wildfire in a built up area looks like.  In the UK we tend to think that wildfire only happens in remote glens, dales, coombes or valleys, but the rural-urban interface is increasing and with drier, hotter summers in prospect as a result of climate change we need to plan better for wildfire.

This is an emerging theme for the UK wildfire conference that is being planned for November 2017.  The EWWF has coordinating role to play in this conference and more details will be published soon.

Could wildfire get into the centres of population in the UK?  Yes, it could, and perhaps it is a case of 'when' not 'if'.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Farmers' Letter to Santa

When sitting in front of the fire nursing a full stomach and hopefully a full glass, reflecting on an interesting 2016 and where the heck 2017 is likely to take us, I recommend a read of Alan Spedding's Farmer's Letter to Santa.  As he says, it is a long list, but I did not find any of the requests unreasonable.

The challenge might be how to prioritise the items on the list with Santa, as his sleigh is unlikely to be big enough to deliver all these requests in one go.

Another challenge will be to identify what Alan might have missed, especially in an uplands context.  In the festive spirit of peace and goodwill, a bit less conflict and some willingness to cooperate would be a good place to start.  Who knows, if this idea caught on, collectively we might be able to achieve a lot more for our uplands and that would really make this a good Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 16 December 2016

John Phillips

John Phillips died on 2nd December and I attended his funeral in Largs, yesterday. His obituary can be viewed on the Trust's website.

It was good to see many members of the Trust at the funeral and there were reminiscences of the type of incidents and activities that John will be remembered for, from throughout his 82 years.

It was John's vision that led to the formation of the Joseph Nickerson Heather Improvement Project that became The Heather Trust in 1994, and I took over, as Director, in May 2002.

John is described in many ways, but it is clear that his impact was significant, and he is remembered widely even now.  His passing marks the end of an era.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Bracken Control - Asulam available for 2017

On behalf of the Bracken Control Group, I submitted an application for an emergency authorisation that will allow asulam to be available for bracken control in 2017.

I am pleased to be able to report that the application has been approved and an emergency authorisation will be issued, next year.  The relevant dates for next year will be confirmed by the letter of authorisation but they are likely to be:

Effective date for the Notice of Authorisation issued by CRD.
Start of the Emergency Authorisation period of 120 days.
Storage, promotion, sales, and transfer authorised.
Application of Asulam can commence.

First expiry date: for sale & distribution of stocks.
Storage and use of stocks can continue.
Final expiry date: for disposal, storage and use of stocks.
It will be illegal to apply or store Asulam after this date.

The registration process to make asulam available under the latest EU regulations is continuing.  The possible timing of the approval has been updated and it is now possible that registration will be achieved by mid-2018.  This is a year earlier than had been thought and if this occurs, an application for an Emergency Authorisation will be needed for 2018, but there is a chance that it will not be required.  Here's hoping.

For more information see the Bracken Control website, which has recently been revised.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Poverty, not Wealth, is the Greater Threat to Wildlife

The publication of the latest State of Nature report (It's not too late to save nature in the UK, but we must act now to protect the future of our wildlife) prompted Matt Ridley to provide his own view.

It is perhaps unfashionable to think so, but maybe we are not doing so badly for our wildlife in the wealthier countries.

"The reason rich people are now able to live alongside wildlife in a way that poor people do not is partly because, once liberated from mere subsistence, they can afford to care."  

See the full story in Matt Ridley's Blog.

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

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.