Saturday, 18 May 2013

Peatland and the Peatland Working Group

I am conscious that the Peatland Working Group (PWG) has been quiet for several months.  Soon after the Group last met, in October 2012, the Scottish Government announced that they were providing SNH with support for peatland of £1.7 million from the Green Stimulus Fund.  Since this announcement, I have been waiting to establish if the PWG would have a role helping with the allocation of this fund, which is due to be spent over a three year period.

There was little time to set up anything in the first period to the end of March 2013, and SNH had to move fast to spend the £200,000 allocated to this first financial year.  They did well to achieve this, but in view of the time pressure, the funding has largely gone to existing projects.

Since the start of April, a Peatland Project has been set up to allocate the rest of the funds.  In view of my interest I have been invited to join a steering group to oversee this project and the group met for the first time on 3 May.  In parallel with the project, SNH is developing a Peatland Plan for Scotland and  this plan may allocate a role for the PWG, or a successor to it.

Meanwhile, I have been working with Clifton Bain (Director, IUCN UK Peatland Programme) to develop a peatland strand of work for the Land Use and Forestry sub-group of the 2020 Climate Group.  The Group has accepted a paper that we produced and this will be published soon.  The main emphasis of the 2020 work will be to encourage private investment in peatland improvement and restoration projects.  The private sector funding will sit alongside funds from the public sector, and initially, it is envisaged that funding will come from corporate social responsibility budgets.  In future, there is a possibility of developing carbon markets that will allow atmospheric carbon captured and stored in peat to be traded.

The first version of the Peatland Carbon Code will provide a framework for CSR investments and this will be circulated in draft form soon.  It is intended to develop an expanded version of the Peatland Carbon Code to provide a framework for a carbon market, but it may be several years before it is possible to take this forward.

Peatland continues to be an area that is developing fast.  I will use this blog to communicate any information I receive, but I would welcome input about any other developments.

The Review of the Muirburn Code

The Scottish Government tasked the Muirburn Group of the Moorland Forum with carrying out an initial critique phase to start the review process for the existing Muirburn Code.  The report from this phase of work would be used to develop the scope of the main review.

I am grateful for the many responses I received to the questionnaire that was widely circulated to invite comments on the existing Code and to capture ideas about how it should be developed to meet current and future requirements for a Muirburn Code.  This process was due to report during April.  Then the great wildfire conflagration struck the north west of Scotland.

The scale of this spate of wildfires was sufficient to make it clear that it would have an impact on the way we approached wildfire and this in turn must affect the way the Muirburn Code should evolve.  The result of this was to put a hold on the development of the ideas coming out of the critique phase, while the lessons form the wildfire incidents were considered.

The Scottish Government held a meeting on 7 May to review the situation.  The wildfire incidents had highlighted very clearly the need for a coordinated approach to wildfire that could only be provided by an effective Wildfire Forum.  As a result of this, it is expected that a revitalised Wildfire Forum will emerge soon.  During the meeting, I emphasised my view that it is time we started planning for wildfire and not reacting with surprise and horror when it occurs.  Planning should start with a prescribed burning plan as a way to reduce fuel load and create firebreaks, and this is where the Muirburn Code comes in.

While the response to the wildfires is reviewed,  the programme for the development of the Muirburn Code is uncertain, but I think it is worth waiting to make sure that a revised Code is able to address wildfire issues, as well as prescribed burning.  If the review process can trigger the development of an effective approach to wildfire and fire management it will have achieved great things.

While we are waiting, further input to the critique phase will be welcome, but judging by the issues that have already been raised, it is clear that there is an appetite for a review of all aspects of the Code, and this will include the objectives for carrying out muirburn in the first place.