Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Workshop: What’s up in the Uplands? Delivering Food & Ecosystem Services

Kirkton & Auchtertyre Research Farm, Crianlarich
The Challenge
What can be done to ensure the economic viability of upland farms so that they can continue to produce quality, sustainable food while delivering ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, flood regulation and maintaining biodiversity? Upland farmers today face pressures including changes to markets, support policies and the climate they are operating in. What should they be aware of ecologically and economically? What current practices could be reviewed and altered to address the pressures? How can upland farmers take advantage of the opportunities presented by an increasing focus on payments for ecosystem services?

Scotland’s Rural College, Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities lead the UK in developing and demonstrating best practice in upland livestock production systems. These organisations have come together to run a two-day training workshop on What’s up in the Uplands? Delivering Food Ecosystem Services at SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Centre, based at Kirkton & Auchtertyre upland research farms near Crianlarich, on 3rd and 4th September 2015

The workshop is particularly focused on upland farming systems and is relevant not only to farmers and their agricultural advisors but also to all those involved with regulating the farming industry or developing agri-environment measures. All of these target audiences need to be aware of and understand the challenges and opportunities facing upland farming systems if such systems are to be economically viable and continue to provide ecosystem service benefits to wider society.

The workshop will explore the environmental, social and economic viability of alternative upland farming systems in the UK, and will discuss challenges and opportunities associated with managing soil, moorlands, natural and cultivated grasslands, sheep and cattle in upland situations.

Leading specialists in their field from SRUC and Bangor will work with workshop attendees to enable them to learn, and discuss in detail, about: how uplands play a key role in providing a wide range of valuable ecosystem services; where greenhouse gas emissions come from on upland farms and how they can be reduced; how upland farmers have an important role to play in carbon sequestration and peatland restoration; how recent research advances can help improve the technical efficiency and economic viability of upland farming; the pros and cons associated heather burning; and how challenges and issues facing upland farms in the Scottish Highlands are relevant to upland farming systems across the UK. 

The workshop will also incorporate a visit to SRUC’s Kirkton & Auchtertyre Farms, to see the range of agricultural and environmental issues being addressed on the farms.

The workshop has been organised as part of an Advanced Training Partnership (ATP) in Sustainable and Efficient Food Production run by Aberystwyth University, Bangor University, NIAB TAG and BBSRC. The workshop will serve attendees either as a certified stand-alone Continual Professional Development (CPD) event or as an introduction to two ATP postgraduate distance learning modules on Upland Farming Systems and Ecosystem Services. 

The full fee for attendance at the workshop is £270. However, if an attendee is employed full time within the UK agri-food sector then then may qualify to receive a bursary to reduce the cost of attendance. Examples of sectors which qualify are: supermarket supply chain advisors, farmers and farm managers, agri-supplies, vets, agri-environmental advisors, agricultural consultants. We regret that those employed in publicly funded posts do NOT qualify for bursaries. Bursaries are awarded at the time of invoicing on a first-come-first-served basis.

More detail
Full details of the workshop, how to register and how to apply for bursaries can be found at the workshop's webpage. Email: atp-enquiries@aber.ac.uk and telephone: 01970 823 224

Peatland Action - Project Officers' Meeting

Last week, I attended a meeting of the Peatland Action Project Officers in Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, and this included a visit to peatland sites hosted by Buccleuch Estates. It made a pleasant change to operating close to home, and to be able to show people from other parts of the country how remote parts of the Southern Uplands can be.

The aim of the meeting was to share knowledge and ideas between the Project Officers who based all over Scotland – from the Shetlands to Galloway.

The project has received additional funding of £3m for this financial year, to build on the budget of £5m that closed at the end of March 2015. The new funding will be allocated to additional peatland restoration work and the window for submitting applications closes on 17 August. There is still time to submit an application, if you are quick!

I am helping to set up demonstration events to communicate the benefits of peatland restoration to a wider audience, and one of the most important audiences will be other land managers. These events will cover restoration techniques, but I think one of the most important messages is that by improving the condition of peatland there are benefits for everyone. It is not just about large intervention projects to restore degraded peatland or re-vegetate areas of bare peat; the benefits can come simply from better management of the land. 

Bare peat areas should be given priority for restoration; as these areas are unstable, the impact of wind and/or water causes them to erode quickly. As a result, bare peat loses the most carbon, both to the atmosphere and to watercourses, in the form of peat particles and dissolved carbon. Stabilising the peat and raising water tables encourages the growth of sphagnum mosses that cover the bare peat, thereby reducing the erosion and loss of the carbon from the moorland.

For more detail, the project has its own section on the SNH website.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Meeting with the Director, Environment & Forestry

On 24 July, the Chairman and I met Bridget Campbell, who is Bob McIntosh's successor as Director, Environment & Forestry in the Scottish Government.

The aim of the meeting was to introduce Bridget Campbell to the Forum and to bring her up to date with ongoing work and future plans.  She was keen to be kept informed about the Understanding Predation project, and our plans for the launch of the Report in February 2016. We also covered the Land Reform Bill and Bridget Campbell will make sure that the Bill Team is aware of the Forum's offer to advise about possible unintended consequences.

A list of Agenda items and notes from the meeting are available to download.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Burning in the Uplands - new RSPB-led Study published

A new study led by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science has revealed the extent of moorland burning across Britain’s upland areas. This is the first time upland burning has been mapped in detail across mainland Britain.

Using aerial photography and satellite images, 45,000 1-km squares were mapped across Scotland, England and Wales, and revealed that burning occurred across 8,551 of these squares, including 5,245 squares in Scotland.  In the ten year period covered by the study from 2001 to 2011, the number of burns recorded increased rapidly by 11 per cent each year.

For more information see the RSPB press release.  The paper has been published in Biological Conservation.  The abstract of the paper can be viewed online and the full paper is available to download for a fee.

This paper, and others like it, will need to be considered as part of the review of the Muirburn Code.  Our understanding of the uplands has improved in many areas since the current Code was published in 2001, but the expansion of our understanding of peatland has been the biggest area of change.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Understanding Predation - Questionnaire closes on 31 July

The Questionnaire

The Understanding Predation project aims to capture the views of as many people as possible. While the project will welcome responses from organisations, it is personal views that count most. The project wants to hear what individuals think, not just what organisations would like their people to think!

Have you completed a questionnaire yet, and have you done enough to draw the attention of colleagues, members and/or supporters to the opportunity that the questionnaire offers people to express their views?  The questionnaire responses will influence the final report from the project.

Understanding Predation – Information at a glance
Project webpage
Project Blog
Questionnaire – Online version
(for submission of response)
Questionnaire – pdf version
(to preview the questions)
End of online questionnaire
Completion of workshops
31st July 2015
Project Review Seminars
27th October – Perth
3rd November – Inverness
12th November - Edinburgh

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Peatland Action - Reborn

The Scottish Government has allocated Peatland ACTION a further £3 m to spend on peatland restoration this year. See Scottish Government news release 9 June 2015 'Climate change action heats up'.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) was allocated £5 million to spend on:
  • restoring and managing peatlands to maintain carbon stores and encourage carbon sequestration restore peatland ecosystem functions; 
  • enhancing ecosystem resilience to climate change; and 
  • building peatland restoration capacity and understanding amongst land managers, contractors, advisors and the public. 
The Peatland ACTION project was established to respond to this challenge in the last financial year, and work was funded across 107 sites throughout Scotland.  Building on this success, the allocation of a further £3m, to spend before the end of March 2016, will allow the Peatland ACTION project to extend the amount of restoration work that can be carried out.

Applications for Funding
Details about how to apply for funding for peatland restoration work are available from the Peatland ACTION part of the SNH website.  The closing date for applications is 17 August - if this is of interest you need to act now.

Demonstration Events
I am working with the Project to the Peatland Project Officers who are in post around the country to set up Demonstration Events.  The programme of events is starting this month and will run into the autumn.  Anyone interested in attending an event can contact me so that I can put them in touch with the appropriate Project Officer.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Sharing Good Practice event: Making soils count

Making soils count - Wednesday 9th September 2015, Battleby Centre, Perth

This Sharing Good Practice (SGP) event forms part of a programme of activities under the Scotland partnership for promotion of UN International Year of Soils 2015 (IYS2015). IYS2015 provides an opportunity to take stock and reflect on examples of sustainable soil management that exist in Scotland and where gaps in information and resources occurs.

This event is organised by Scottish Natural Heritage in partnership with Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Field Studies Council, British Geological Survey, The James Hutton Institute, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Scottish Rural College and Cifal Scotland.

SGP events are fully participatory events where participants can learn about and share practical issues relevant to their own particular roles and activities and discuss their resource requirements and help to identify resource gaps. This event will specifically cover awareness of soil issues and demonstrate the breadth of information and tools available. The event is aimed at ‘those who have responsibility for soil and its sustainable management in Scotland’. In particular - land managers, advisors, researchers, public agencies and NGO’s. 

Event Objectives: 
  • To promote awareness of soil issues
  • To provide a path to the breadth of information and tools available to understand, monitor and manage soils by range of contributing organisations
  • An opportunity to take stock and reflect on examples of sustainable soil management that exist in Scotland
The event flyer and booking form are available on the SNH website.