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.