Thursday, 18 December 2014

Scottish Natural Heritage - Review of Moorland Management

Professor Alan Werritty is the chairman of the SNH-led review of moorland management.  Here, at the end of a long two days, Alan provides an update on progress.

Our two-day hearing has come to a close.

Our final session ranged over policy issues. We had a lively hearing involving Bob McIntosh, Director of the Scottish Government’s Environment and Forestry Directorate, Duncan Orr-Ewing of the RSPB, Maggie Keegan of the SWT, and Andrew Midgley of Scottish Land Estates.

The Land Use Strategy and the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy featured prominently. We explored in detail the environmental, social and economic pillars of sustainable moorland landscapes. A lot of our discussion centred on the role of a national vision for moorland and regional strategies supporting this.

Now we begin work on our report, which we shall draft by the end of February. 

Meanwhile, I must thank my colleagues for supporting the review, and the many people who attended the hearing for so enthusiastically participating in our conversations. We have also received some excellent written evidence which helps us greatly.

Professor Alan Werritty FRSE
Chair of the SNH SAC Sustainable Moorland Management Review Group

Scottish Natural Heritage - Review of Moorland Management

Professor Alan Werritty is chairing a SNH-led review of moorland management.  Here, in his second guest blog, Alan provides an update on progress.

We are now well into our hearing on sustainable moorland management.

Yesterday was fascinating. We heard evidence from SNH staff, which highlighted the huge breadth of issues they deal with under the umbrella of ‘moorlands’. We have some strong lines of evidence on wildlife and habitat changes derived from SNHs Site Condition Monitoring, and available on SEWeb.

We then heard from a trio of professors working on water management and geodiversity. We discussed the EMBER project, a number of issues relating to flood management, and heard about growing interest in the ‘roughness’ of upland landscapes in determining water run-off. 

We then moved into economic and amenity issues and heard from representatives of crofting and recreation interests as well as experienced economists and land-use experts. As we ranged over the many values of moorland we were challenged to tease apart views, perceptions and evidence (the term ‘co-production of evidence’ popped into conversation!). So many people, even experts, have hard views about what works well and badly across moorland Scotland, yet the evidence base underpinning this is incredibly patchy and disparate.

We worked late and tried to pull together the threads of much of what we heard, and have read.

This morning, we started with a session on biodiversity, with lively contributions from Professors Steve Redpath and Davy McCracken, both vastly experienced and steeped in the complexities of land use change, conservation and management. A lot of science came to the fore here, and we heard a strong case for more experimental work, and possibly a large experiment on land management practices and impacts. We also heard a lot about the value of a range of evidence types – not just from scientists, but from the wider range of stakeholders connected with the uplands.

We have just finished a session on moorland management practices, with experts from the Heather Trust, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Trust for Scotland, Association of Deer Management Groups, and the renewable energy sector. This was a wide ranging session, with a lot of discussion centring on grouse moor management, the land restoration measures and cooperative approaches to management. These are complex issues, and one issue emerging very clearly is the great range of management objectives, some of which operate at the local landholding level, whereas others cover vast landscapes. Indeed, several people have commented we don’t really have a clear or shared vision for moorlands. We recently saw a public consultation on a national plan for Scotland’s peatlands, and we have a good deal to learn from that.

Professor Alan Werritty FRSE
Chair of the SNH SAC Sustainable Moorland Management Review Group

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Scottish Natural Heritage - Review of Moorland Management

Professor Alan Werritty is the chairman of a SNH-led review of moorland management.  Here, Alan provides a guest blog to provide some background to the review.

Today is the first of two days spent gathering evidence on sustainable moorland management. I am chairing the SNH Scientific Advisory Committee  (SAC) review  group reviewing this topic, and we have invited views from more than 20 specialists and advisers drawn from research bodies, government, agencies, land managers and NGOs.  Meeting in Edinburgh, we are looking forward to lively exchanges to tease out what we know, and what we don’t.  Of course we would like to have invited many more, but we have had to be selective.

We are looking to develop our understanding of management, which sustains the fullest range of moorland natural heritage features across Scotland, and which supports ecologically and economically healthy ecosystems.

Periodically, questions are asked about the impacts of sheep and deer grazing, muirburn,  heather cutting, predator control and a range of other management practices on moorlands.  Answers differ depending on whether your interests lie with soils, water, wildlife, economic interests or wider environmental and cultural aspects.  As part of our review, we are trying to identify the management which supports healthy  nature as well as healthy economics.  It is quite a challenge!

In carrying out this review we want to contribute to work underway under the Land Use Strategy (LUS)  and Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS) , as well as work reviewed under the IUCN Peatland Programme .   Other important sources of information are to be found on Scotland’s Moorland Forum website  and  as a result of Natural England’s recently completed first phase of a review of the evidence base on the management of the English uplands.  We have already pulled together a lot of information, and have received very helpful submissions.

Beyond the hearing, we shall draft our report and submit it to the SAC for its meeting on 5th March. The report will then be presented to the SNH Board.

My colleagues on the review group are: Professor Robin Pakeman (James Hutton Institute), Dr Colin Shedden (BASC), Dr Adam Smith (GWCT) and Professor Jeremy Wilson (RSPB). The Secretary is Karen Rentoul, supported by Professor Des Thompson (SNH).

Professor Alan Werritty FRSE
Chair of the SNH SAC Sustainable Moorland Management Review Group

Monday, 15 December 2014

Peatland action - Demonstration Sites

I met Andrew McBride (Peatland Action Project Manager) in Battleby, today to discuss further development of proposals to establish a suite of demonstration sites across Scotland as part of the Peatland Action (PA) project.

These sites will be on land where work funded by the PA project has been carried out, and the aim will be to establish sites that represent different types of peatland in different conditions.

The initial idea we discussed was to use the sites for events to allow people to visit and find out at first hand what peatland management involved. They would also learn about the impact of the work on other enterprises.  However, the sites could be used in many different ways and I will be exploring other possible uses, as well as the demonstration concept, in the further proposals I produce on behalf of the Forum in January.

I would welcome input from any Forum member who has a view about this work.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A briefing from the Peatland Conference 2014

A grip block in operation 
This briefing will be presented at the Moorland Forum meeting on 31 October 2014

The conference was held in Inverness, 20-22 October 2014, and was the sixth in an annual series of conferences organised by the IUCN UK Peatland Programme the main funder of this year's conference was the Peatland Action project.This briefing provides some highlights for the information of Moorland Forum members.

The conference is very academic in nature, and does not attract many other stakeholders. Arguably, it is not a format that will appeal to the owners and managers of land, and rather than adapt the format for future conferences, it would be better to develop an alternative way to engage with other interest groups.

The proposal to establish a form of demonstration sites has been proposed by the Peatland Steering Group, and this is an issue that was returned to several times during the presentations given as part of the conference. On behalf of the Moorland Forum, I have been asked to look at the options and to consider how a proposal could be prepared.

Our knowledge of peatlands has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and the IUCN programme has been at the heart of this development. There are many initiatives and to anyone not involved with peatland issues on a day-to-day basis, the different initiatives can become rather confusing. We will be hearing about the National Peatland Plan, the Peatland Code and Peatland Action during the meeting on 31 October, but I think it will be an important part of the National Peatland Plan to establish a Peatland Group that will bring all the different threads together.

All this increasing knowledge will be of little value until we can develop a delivery structure to apply the knowledge for the benefit of peatland. Peatland Action has achieved great things in a very short space of time, but the money dries up to a large extent, next year, and thereafter it will not be to make progress by providing large grants to NGOs and agencies. More work will need to be done with the private owners and managers of peatland and this is a change we need to start planning for. I believe that the demonstration site concept is the best way to provide this engagement in different parts of Scotland, while providing a platform for applied research that will further increase our knowledge.

I believe that this is an involved, but important, topic, that the Forum should maintain close contact with.

Muirburn on Deep Peat: a view from England

Bog-Athon in progress
This briefing will be presented to Moorland Forum members on 31 October 2014.

Burning on deep peat has been a topic that has attracted a lot of activity in England during 2014. As the chairman of the Best Practice Burning Group, I was involved in back-to-back visits to three moors in northern England.

The flurry of activity was sparked off by the Evidence to Advice phase of Natural England’s Upland Evidence Review. As a way to ease the tensions coming out of this process, and to allow Natural England to make progress with their review, what has become known as the bog-athon was set up. A working group from the main Burning Group visited three areas of deep peat in Northern England on successive days. This was pretty intensive, but the intensity allowed participants to drill down into areas of discussion that had eluded us at other times.

I was joined on the working group by representatives from Natural England, RSPB, Moorland Association, Yorkshire Water and a landowner / farmer. In addition, the gamekeepers, landowners and NE Area Staff with an interest in the moor joined each visit to provide local input. The visits took place on Raby Estate, Upper Teesdale; Keighley Moor, Yorkshire; and the High Peak in the Peak District. These moors represented a good range of habitats and management objectives that allowed the working group to start to develop an approach that would work to deliver multiple objectives, if applied to other peatland.

I was heartened by the amount of consensus that came out of this process and included the following points:
  • There should be no intention by Natural England to ban burning on deep peat; burning should continue to be available as an important tool.
  • There is a need to adapt the way that burning on deep peat is approached; more sensitive use of fire could be beneficial to all interests.
  • More sphagnum moss should be encouraged.
  • Landowners and managers have the ability to innovate and produce the desired outcomes. 
  • Further discussion needs to look forward; chewing over old bones will not be productive.
This is all a big improvement from the loggerheads position that had been reached within the burning group.  The problems have not gone away but considerable progress was made through establishing dialogue. The approach may be something to consider in Scotland.

Bracken Control - Briefing

Aerial application in progress
This briefing will be presented to the Moorland Forum during the meeting on 31 October.

Following the ending of the approval to use Asulam for bracken control on 31 December 2012, arrangements have been put in place each year to allow asulam to be available for bracken control under the terms of an Emergency Authorisation (EA) granted by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate of the Health & Safety Executive (CRD).

A Bracken Control Group was established in 2012 to promote the control of bracken by any means, but also to oversee the application for an EA. The Heather Trust coordinates this Group. The continued availability of Asulam for bracken control cannot be guaranteed, but the Bracken Control Group is working with all parts of the bracken control community to promote the importance of being able to control this invasive species.

The long-term aim is to achieve the registration of Asulam for bracken control under the latest EU regulations. Registration is an expensive process that requires an investment of many £100,000s, and it takes a long time. The application has been submitted, but a response from the EU is not expected until December 2016. Therefore, to maintain the availability of asulam, EAs will be required up to and including 2017. To date, no concerns have been expressed by the regulators to approving this number of authorisations.

As part of the review of asulam carried out by CRD, the previous uses of asulam were investigated. It had been common practice to use small doses of asulam at high concentrations for follow-up treatment, and this could be applied by a spot gun or even a knapsack sprayer. However, there was not enough data available to prove that this approach did not exceed operator exposure thresholds. Also, it became apparent that some of the recognised asulam application techniques, such as the use of a drift sprayer, or a weed-wiper had not been fully assessed. As a result of this, approval for follow-up treatment under the EAs has only been given for hand-held equipment when using Asulam at low concentrations, and the two application techniques have not been included in the EA approvals. The Bracken Control Group is working with the industry to investigate better methods for follow-up treatment that could be approved by CRD.

The Bracken Control Group has a website ( that provides more detail of the current state of bracken control. A newsletter is published, which has a sign up option for anyone wanting to know more about any developments that affect bracken control. The EA for 2015 has been applied for, and it is hoped to be able to announce the result of the application soon.