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.