Saturday, 21 November 2015

Consultation on a draft Land Use Strategy 2016 - 2021

The land use strategy consultation runs until 29 January 2016. See the Scottish Government website for full details.

The first Land Use Strategy was published in March 2011. It initiated a step change towards a more integrated and strategic approach to land use.

The draft Land Use Strategy 2016-2021 builds on the first Strategy and retains the strategic Vision, Objectives and Principles for Sustainable Land Use. These are considered fit for purpose in terms of continuing to provide the strategic direction for sustainable land use matters. 

The draft provides a focussed set of priority activities for the next five years and policies and proposals have been developed around the following themes:
  • Policy Context;
  • Informed Decision Making; and
  • Applying the Principles.
The draft sets out a range of policies and proposals including:
  • how we manage our natural resources, including continued use of an ecosystems approach to land use decisions;
  • developing and implementing activities to promote climate friendly farming and crofting;
  • an exploration of the relationship between ownership, use and management of land including consideration of the potential advantages of a single policy statement about land; and
  • encouraging regional land use partnerships to bring a range of interests together to consider land use at a local level.
As with other consultations, it may be difficult for the Forum to respond on behalf of members, as it may not be possible for the Forum to achieve consensus on all the issues.  However, the possibility of providing a generic response from the Forum will be considered, and Forum members will be encouraged to to respond individually.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Understanding Predation Project - Review Seminars

See the report from the final two seminars that is on the Understanding Predation blog.

UK Wildfire Conference: 10-11 November

I represented the Moorland Forum at the UK Wildfire Conference, last week.  This conference was the latest in a series of UK conferences that started in 2003.  Previously, the conferences had been organised by an independent company, but this year the decision was taken that the Scottish Wildfire Forum should team up with the England & Wales Wildfire Forum and the Chief Fire Officers' Association Wildfire Group to run the conference.  The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service agreed to host the conference at their state-of-the-art conference centre at Cambuslang, south-east of Glasgow, and it proved to be a fantastic venue.

After a slow start, the number of bookings increased to just short of 180 and it was great that this included people from Sweden, the Netherlands, USA and New Zealand.  The international audience justified the presence of the key-note international speakers from USA, New Zealand and Italy, who shared their considerable wildfire experience with the conference.  The level of preparedness for wildfire in the UK is low compared to other countries, but then so is our threat level.  Arguably, the threat level is too low; if it were higher, we would be forced to get more organised but it is difficult to justify this when we only have a bad wildfire season every few years, which is unlikely to affect every part of the UK.  During discussion at the conference, the comparison was made with snow clearance; if we had regular, predictable heavy falls of snow, we would be prepared to invest more heavily in snow clearing equipment.  However, just because our wildfire threat level is low does not mean there is no risk to people and property and that we should not be planning ahead.  This was the theme for the conference: "Prevention Better Than Cure".

I am the Vice Chairman of the England & Wales Wildfire forum, and also on the Executive Committee of the Scottish Wildfire Forum, and in this dual capacity I was asked to provide an introduction to the conference, to help set the scene.

On the second day, I ran a workshop about the proposal to introduce a Fire Danger Rating System (FDRS) for the UK.  The starting point for this is that the two wildfire forums and the Chief Fire Officers' Association Wildfire Group, should come together to draw up a specification for what is required; jointly, these organisations should be the customer.  As part of developing a specification, all existing systems will be reviewed, as well as the option to develop a bespoke system for the UK.  Any costs will need to be justified.  Experience of introducing a better co-ordinated response to wildfire in the Peak District has indicated that there will be cost savings, but it will no doubt be difficult to obtain any funding for this work.  However, the first step is to quantify what the industry wants a FDRS to achieve and then provide different options, with associated costs for how this might be achieved.

Wildfire is often seen as a poor relation when considering the management of our open land, but with forecasters indicating that climate change is likely to result in hotter and drier summers, I believe it is essential that we become better prepared for wildfire incidents so that we can reduce their impact.  The worst case scenario is a summer wildfire burning into peat - not only will this result in severe damage to vegetation, it will cause an enormous loss of stored carbon.

Wildfires are a potential environmental disaster; we must do everything we can to reduce the amount of damage they cause.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Peatland Action - Team Meeting - day 2

After some late night informal discussion, day 2 of the Team Meeting, on Friday 6 November, took place indoors.

I provide some support for the project by coordinating and advising on the demonstration events that the project officers are running; these promote the work of the project, and allow discussion of peatland restoration and management.  

Demonstration Events
While some larger demonstration events will continue to be held, where it is appropriate, some project officers have found it effective to take one or two people with them when inspecting work in progress.  This involves little extra effort and is a good way to engage with people who want to know more about peatland management.  Project Officers have been encouraged to use this approach.

A more strategic event is being planned the end of February, and this will be held near Lanark.  The target audience will be senior staff from Forestry Commission Scotland, and from other organisations within reach of Lanark.  

Some discussion took place about having a team meeting at the end of this phase of the project, in March 2016, and this will probably be held near Edinburgh.  This might provide an opportunity to host an evening reception to present the achievements of Peatland Action to a wider audience.

Peatland: Management vs Restoration
I was encouraged by the increasing reference to peatland management, as I believe this represents the peatland story moving into a more mature phase.  It is easy to get carried away by all the excitement associated with hordes of large machinery moving across moorland, and it can be forgotten that this is a long-term game.  

Restoration work is required in areas where the peat is eroding fast, and the worst cases are where the vegetation has been removed to leave bare peat.  In other areas, where the vegetation cover remains, a more subtle approach is required to manage the vegetation more sympathetically and perhaps shift the balance between dry heath species and mosses to make it more resilient in the future.

We need to integrate peatland management into best practice management of our upland and moorland areas.  To do this the Peatland Action project must be able to engage with farmers as well as estates.  Recognition of the changing importance of peatlands will inevitability take a long time and the 'peatland community' must be patient; we are making progress but there is still a long way to go.

Barriers to Adoption
The project is aware that there are some barriers, perceived and real, that are preventing some people for embracing the message about peatland.  An example is the concern of livestock farmers that re-wetting will increase the incidence of fluke and increase the amount of Bog asphodel, which is associated with photo-sensitisation in sheep.  It may be possible to address some of these concerns by producing some guidance, but other issues may require further research.  I will be establishing from project officers where such barriers are thought to exist, and I would welcome input from others.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Peatland Action - Team Meeting - day 1

Part of Inshriach Restoration Site, near Aviemore
I had an interesting day with the Peatland Action team in Aviemore, yesterday, that included a visit to nearby peatland restoration sites.

Seeing this work first hand confirms my conviction that the restoration of peatland is long overdue.  In the past our treatment of these areas as waste land has been to ignore their value in so many ways.  Their impact on water quality is the most obvious; when you can see how much peat material gets washed away when the protective layer of vegetation is removed you can begin to understand why our rivers turn brown after heavy rain.  We should also not forget the eroding effect of wind on peat that has dried out.

One of the areas we visited yesterday had lost about a metre of depth, since concern was first expressed about the condition of the area in 1986.  While there maybe between three and five metres of peat on this site still, it will not last long at this rate of erosion.

Some of the Peatland Action Project Officers
The first task for restoration work must be to restrict erosion by restoring the vegetation cover.  If the water table is then raised, this surface layer will become self-sustaining.  The ideal is then for  sphagnum mosses to colonise the area which will then start to form more peat.

This is all long-term stuff.  The Peatland Action team have been tasked with spending £3m in the 9 months that ends on 31 March 2016.  When compared with the scale of the problem caused by our lack of sensitive management in the past, this is a drop in the bucket, but it is a good start.  More funding and more awareness of the challenge we face is required.