Saturday, 25 June 2016

Peatland Code at the Royal Highland Show


I was pleased to be able to support the presentation about the Peatland Code that took place on the Scottish Land & Estates stand on Thursday, 23rd June.  The benefits that flow from better management of peatland are becoming clearer and it is encouraging that ambassadors amongst the land management community are coming forward to state their support.  However, it is difficult to justify the cost of restoration work without external funding and this is how the Peatland Code aims to help; one of the roles for the Code is to provide a match-making service between those who want to restore peatland and those who might want to fund this, perhaps as part of a Corporate Social Responsibility package.

If you want to know the IUCN UK Peatland programme is running a webinar on 26 July. The Peatland Code Webinar: A practical solution to a global problemThe Peatland Code Webinar: A practical solution to a global problem.



With thanks to SL&E for hosting the Peatland Code event, their hospitality provided a good opportunity to meet a range of Moorland Forum members and others with an interest in Scotland's moorlands and uplands.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Principles of Moorland Management (PoMM) - an update



The PoMM project has developed in the shadow of the Understanding Predation project and members of the Forum, and others alike, will be forgiven if they have lost sight of the plan for this work.

The aim is to develop a series of guidance covering a range of moorland management issues. This guidance will be aimed primarily to give practitioners an overview of the information they need before applying different management techniques, and directions to where to find more detailed information.

The project is now gathering momentum and with this briefing, I aim to bring everyone up to date on the stage that this project has reached, the work in progress and the work that is planned.

This project has always been a 'slow burner' but nonetheless it provides the Forum with an opportunity to produce guidance that will be of value to practitioners.

It is deliberate that a some of the details of the project have been left to evolve as the work of the project develops, and it is recognised that each topic will to some extent require a different approach. 

A key feature of the project is that it will rely on cross-sector support for the guidance. Some may think that it will not be possible to achieve this for some of the more controversial topics, but this is the challenge that the project lays down. To produce the guidance may require some compromises but if these can be accepted the benefits from being able to provide a positive influence on the management activities carried out by practitioners will justify this approach. 

Project Governance 

A Project Plan has been agreed and approved by the Forum; this is available on the PoMM page of the Forum's website. 

A provisional Steering Group has been formed from the Planning Group that developed the Project Plan:
Tim
Baynes
Scottish Land & Estates Moorland Group
John
Bruce
British Deer Society
Alastair
MacGugan
SNH Wildlife Management Manager
Adam
Smith
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
Tony
Waterhouse
Scotland's Rural College (SRUC)
Malcolm
Younger
Representing RICS  

The Project Plan makes it clear that the Steering Group can be extended to embrace other interest groups, and volunteers to join the Steering Group will be welcome. It may be possible for someone to contribute to the work of the Steering Group in arelation to one particular topic of interest, but this will need to be considered by the Group.

When guidance has been approved by the Steering Group, it will be referred to all members of the Forum for any comment, before final publication.

Guidance Groups

Guidance Groups are being formed to consider topics agreed by the Steering Group and the Groups will be given a brief to work to and develop, in liaison with the Steering Group.

The Chairman of the Guidance Group will be a member of the Forum.

Guidance Groups will be kept small (4-6 members) and will be formed from people with current experience of the topic, from within but also, where appropriate, from outside the Forum.

Form of the Guidance

The aim is for the output from each Guidance Group to be a summary of the knowledge practitioners, who are seeking to apply the moorland management technique, should have together with directions about how to find more information.

The guidance will be web-based and at least initially, this information will be added to the Moorland Forum’s website.

The format of the published guidance has not yet been agreed and the first piece of guidance will be used to develop a style that will be used for other information, although it is likely that variations in the style will be required for different topics. 

The aim is to publish the best guidance available at the time of publication. This may be a ‘moving target’ but a feature of being online is that it will be easy to update the guidance to reflect increasing knowledge or other changes.

Review

It will be important to keep the guidance up to date, and a feature of the project will be an annual review of all published guidacen, although guidance can be updated at any time in response to changes.

Progress

Guidance Groups have been established to consider: Worm Control in Grouse and Heather Cutting. Briefs for both these topics are available on the PoMM webpage.

A group is forming to consider Sustainable Management Mountain Hare and to produce interim guidance, ahead of more formal guidance that is due to be published in 2017. A need for the interim guidance has been identified and this topic is being given a high priority. 

Conclusions

This is a valuable opportunity for the Forum to apply is broad based, specialist knowledge. It will take time to develop the planned suite of information but this will become a valuable source of information for practitioners and others.

Please caontact me if you have any questions about the way the project is developing, if you want to propose topics to address, or if you want to offer support for the work in progress or planned.



Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Summer Meeting - Sleat Peninsula, Skye


I would like to thank all those who made the Forum's summer visit to Skye such a success.  Lady Noble of Fearann Eilean Iarmain (The Isle Ornsay Estate) hosted the visit and Malcolm Younger (Islesman Ltd) made the local arrangements on her behalf.  We stayed at Sabhal Mor Ostaig (The Gaelic College), which was established by Sir Ian Noble.  We met there on Thursday afternoon, 26th May, and completed a short meeting to discuss Forum business, before being joined by several local guests.

After an introduction by Lady Noble, we heard presentations from:
  • Professor Frank Rennie from UHI about Common Grazings;
  • Isabel Moore, ‎Biologist at Skye Fisheries Trust, about Salmon and Sea Trout; and
  • Jan Wallwork-Clarke, the CEO of Clan Donald Land Trust (the neighbouring landowner), about the estate and deer management.
Photo: Stewart Dawber
Over drinks before supper, the local photographer, Stewart Dawber, gave us a show of his photographs.  This served to whet our appetite for the field visit the following day; we were not to be disappointed.  This photo is an example of his work.

After dinner, we were treated to a cultural presentation about the history of the Sleat Peninsula by Professor Hugh Cheape from the College.  After this, the weather was so perfect, with wind to keep the local midges at bay, that we were able to put the world to rights while standing outside enjoying the view across the Sound of Sleat, in the last of the light.

On Friday morning, we drove the loop road to the west coast of the peninsula and had many interesting discussions in the sunshine, while soaking in the stunning view of the Cuillins.  Among many other topics, we discussed: deer management; the interaction between moorland and woodland management; the economics of farming in the area; fishery management, which included coming face to face with Fresh Water Pearl Mussels and an Adder; and common grazings.

This visit has served to provide the Forum with some very useful contacts in the north and west of the country.  This is of particular importance as we roll out the review of the Muirburn Code and the developing guidance under the banner of the Principles of Moorland Management.  Also, if the Forum is to play a role with the development of a Moorland Vision, in whatever form this takes, good contacts in this area will be essential. The area to the north and west of the Great Glen does not get enough focus and I hope that the Forum can use this visit as the catalyst to start to correct this.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Wildfire Warning for Scotland


The Scottish Wildfire Forum (SWF) is raising awareness about the increased risk of wildfire across most parts of Scotland over the next few days as weather forecasters predict very dry conditions.

Vice Chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, Michael Bruce, monitors the European Commission’s European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) which provides information, which can be used to inform the public about the risk of wildfire.

He said: “At the start of spring there is often a lot of dead vegetation leftover from last year. This fuel can dry out quickly when there are bright sunny days with high temperatures and low humidity levels. We have a high pressure weather system dominating Scotland creating these conditions at the moment.”

We are now well into that time of year when the risk of wildfire is at its highest and The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is already working closely with land managers and appealing to tourists and communities to help reduce the number fires in a bid to protect the countryside and its residents.

On Saturday, SFRS crews tackled a wildfire which involved a large area of heathland a mile long being fanned by strong winds near the village of Carsphairn in rural Dumfries and Galloway.

SFRS Deputy Assistant Chief Officer, Andy Coueslant, the chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, said raising awareness is key to reducing the risk.

He explained: “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.

“Many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by wildfires, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage.

“Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can all be devastated by these fires, as can the lives of people living and working in rural communities.

“Human behaviour can significantly lower the chance of a wildfire starting so it’s crucial people act safely and responsibly in rural environments and follow the countryside code.”

The public can help prevent wildfires by making sure they dispose of litter and smoking materials carefully while in rural areas. Land managers are reminded that the legal period for Muirburn ended on 30 April.

For further advice and information about wildfires and what we can all do to prevent them visit our website www.firescotland.gov.uk

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Scottish Land & Estates - Spring Conference - 25 May 2016


Scottish Land & Estates has announced details of their Spring Conference, which will be held in The Assembly Rooms, George Street, Edinburgh on 25 May 2016.

This conference offers delegates a unique opportunity to engage with Scottish landowners, representatives of land based business, rural professionals, politicians, policy decision makers and academics. The conference is designed to stimulate debate, introduce new ideas and approaches, explore challenges and identify potential solutions.

For more details about the conference and how to apply for a place, see the SL&E website.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Wildfire Warning for Southern Scotland


As a result of the dry weather conditions and the dry condition of the vegetation, the Scottish Fire & Rescue Servce and the Scottish Wildfire Forum have issued a Wildfire Warning.  The areas at most risk are in SW Scotland and across the Southern Uplands.

There have been some wildfire incidents in these areas in the last few days and and landowners and managers are asked to take care.  Full details of the Wildfire Warning are available to download.

Michael Bruce, the Vice chairman of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, monitors the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) and he said, "at the end of winter, before plants start growing in the spring, there is often a lot of dead vegetation from last year. This fuel can dry out quickly when there are bright sunny days and frosts overnight with low levels of humidity. We have a high pressure weather system dominating the UK creating these conditions at the moment."



Thursday, 31 March 2016

Land Reform (Scotland) Bill - Summary

Photo: CKD Galbraith
I recommend that anyone seeking easy-access to the key areas addressed by the Bill should read the summary published by CKD Galbraith.