Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Wildfire Conference - 10-11 November, Cambuslang, Near Glasgow

"Prevention Better than Cure"

The ‘Wildfires 2015 - Prevention Better Than Cure’ conference and exhibition will be held at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Training College, Cambuslang, Glasgow on Tuesday, 10th and Wednesday, 11th November.

Held on a bi-annual basis, the wildfire conferences and exhibitions held in the UK have focused on sharing knowledge about this threat to open landscapes in the UK.  Against a background set by climate change forecasts  that indicate the number and scale of wildfire incidents are likely to increase, this year the emphasis of the conference will be on reducing the risk of damage from wildfire, which is of importance to the Fire & Rescue Services (FRS) and stakeholders alike. 

The conference is being staged at the Scottish FRS's state of the art training centre in Cambuslang.  The conference will be an opportunity to bring together not only leading personnel from the UK and abroad, but there will also be a diverse range of specialists representing the UK FRSs, land & estate managers, insurers, environmental & conservation organisations, and the planning and policy sectors.

The programme includes some excellent sessions on a range of important issues related to wildfire prevention. Keynote speakers are now confirmed from California, New Zealand and Italy, providing some important and insightful international contributions. The other presenters come from the far corners of the UK and represent a wide variety of stakeholder organisations. There will also be exhibition stands from equipment suppliers and poster presentations of recent and current cutting-edge wildfire research. This is a 'must see' event for anyone in the UK who is involved or interested in wildfire prevention.

The conference programme can be downloaded and other details about the Conference (costs, booking form, accommodation etc) can be viewed on the SFRS website.

Please pass this information to any friends and colleagues who may be interested in attending this event.

The conference is being fully supported by the Scottish Wildfire Form, The England & Wales Wildfire Forum and the Chief Fire Officer's Association Wildfire Group.  The Forums are taking advantage of the opportunity to hold a joint meeting as a way to enhance the links within the 'wildfire community' in the UK.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Peatland Restoration - event near Crianlarich - 28 Sep 15

There are a few places left at this event which is being run by SRUC at their hill farm, near Crianlarich on Monday next week (28 Sep 15).

Details of how to apply for a place are contained in the flyer below.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Minister's Meeting with the Forum - Muirkirk, 4 September

Representatives of the Forum met Dr Aileen MacLeod, MSP, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in the Coach House Inn, Muirkirk, on 4 September.  After a short introduction, we took the Minister onto the moorland to the south of Muirkirk, which is part of the Bute Estate.  Our host was Nick Wright, the manager of the estate, and at various stops we discussed a range of topics with the Minister:

Understanding Predation Project: Chris Wernham (BTO) provided an update on the progress of this project.  The draft report will be presented to the steering group, at the end of September and it will be discussed in three seminars between 27 October and 12 November.  The final report will be published at the end of January 2016.  The Minister confirmed her support for this project and stated that she is looking forward to launching the Report, in February.

Heather Management: Nick Wright described some of the heather management issues on the estate and the impact that the re-introduction of grazing two years ago, using Herdwick sheep, has had.

Conservation Issues: Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB) commented on the importance of the site for upland breeding birds and this led into an interesting discussion about the impact that changing management regimes can have on the populations of key bird species.

Land Reform: Tim Baynes (SMG) had been asked for his views about how the Forum could best contribute to the debate about Land Reform.  Many members would be submitting a response to the Bill consultation, and in recognition of the diverse range of opinion across Forum members, Tim recommended that the Forum should maintain the position expressed in Lord Lindsay’s letter to the Minister.  The letter had expressed the willingness of the Forum to respond to any requests for support from the Scottish Government to help identify any unintended consequences that might come from the reforms being considered.  The letter had identified the re-introduction of sporting rates as one issue where the reform might have unintended, negative impacts.

Upland Solutions:  I provided some background about the Upland Solutions project and how this had drawn comparisons in the relationship between the community and the moorland in Muirkirk and the Upper Findhorn Glen, above Tomatin.  It was suggested that if anything this work was more relevant now than it had been when the Project Report was published in 2011.  I suggested that this is unfinished business that the Forum should seek an opportunity to revisit.

Airds Moss Visit

The Minister departed at lunchtime and in the afternoon, the RSPB (Gerry McAuley and Duncan Orr-Ewing) hosted a short visit to the Airds Moss reserve, just to the west of Muirkirk, where substantial peatland restoration work has been undertaken. It was a great opportunity for Forum members to get a feel for the scale of such work.

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.