Friday, 27 February 2015

Land Reform - Letter to the Minister

The Land Reform consultation was discussed during the Chairman's working Group meeting on 6 February, which took place just 4 days before the close of the consultation on the 'Future of Land Reform in Scotland'.

To summarise the discussion that took place, this is an extract from the Minutes of the meeting:
  • There is value to the Forum in understanding which proposals would create challenges or opportunities in the uplands.
  • The Forum should not miss the opportunity to express opinion on something considered to be important. There were concerns that the timescale for response (by Tuesday 10th February) was extremely tight.
  • Also, it was felt that, in order to be in place by May 2015, the Bill is not following the usual sequential process, it was short on detail and it was being rushed through at breakneck speed. 
  • Concern was raised about the unintended adverse consequences resulting from this fast-track process.
  • From the Consultation report, it was suggested that Forum members should focus their attention on proposals: 
    • 4 - Sustainable development test for land governance, 
    • 5 - A more proactive role for public sector land management, 
    • 6 - Duty of community engagement on charitable trustees when taking land management decisions, 
    • 7 - Business rates for shooting and deerstalking, and 
    • 10 - Wild Deer. 
A multi-signature submission to a Minister attracts more attention than individual letters and the most effective Forum response would be an immediate letter to the Minister expressing interest, some concern and an offer to support the process.
  • A letter would be drafted for the Chairman’s signature.
  • The letter should include a strong plea for more time to consider the potential unintended consequences in more detail.
The letter was sent to the Minister for Environment and it was submitted to the Consultation Team through the formal response system.  The letter can be viewed here.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Scottish Wildfire Forum - update

SFRS Training Centre, Cambuslang
I represent the Moorland Forum on the Scottish Wildfire Forum (SWF). The SWF was formed initially in 2005 and was run by the Highlands & Islands Fire & Rescue Service, but momentum was lost in 2011, when the restructuring of the fire services in Scotland started.

The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service  (SFRS) was formed on 1 April 2013, and this coincided with a spate of wildfires, predominantly in the north and west. The SWF was reformed in 2013, spurred on by the experience of the April wildfires, and since then it has been gathering momentum.

One of the most significant recent developments has been the closer cooperation between the SWF, the England & Wales Wildfire Forum and the Wildfire Group set up by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA WG). The concept of a wildfire community has developed and this will help to ensure that there is no duplication of effort in developing policy to minimise the risk of damage from wildfire.

A UK wildfire conference has been held every two years and in 2015 this will be held in Scotland.  The difference this time is that the conference is being organised by the wildfire forums and the CFOA WG. This will allow the conference to be developed to meet the needs of the wildfire community. The SFRS will be hosting the conference at their magnificent training facility in Cambuslang. The theme of the conference will be Wildfire Prevention and it will take place from lunchtime on 10 November and finish at lunchtime the following day. One of the aims for the conference will be to engage with a wide range of interest groups, in an effort to promote the concept that wildfire is not just a problem for the SFRS and that it needs to be planned for with the owners and managers of land, of every description.

Another area of work that the SWF is supporting is the development of a Fire Danger Rating System (FDRS). The CFOA WG put together some ideas with the MetOffice early in 2014, but funding for this was not found. The current proposal is for the wildfire community to identify the need and an approach to produce a system for the UK, and this will include several options. If there is agreement about the requirements for a system, efforts will then be made to get development work funded. The FDRS will provide the SFRS with early warning of high wildfire risk, but ideally the system will also be useful for planning prescribed burning, as it will be able to predict periods when conditions will be suitable.

Wildfire has been suggested as a topic that the Forum should consider in more detail, and it would be good to get input from the Wildfire Project Officer within the SFRS.  A new person is about to be appointed to this role, and as soon as they have settled in, I will approach them with a view to inviting them to attend a Forum meeting.

I will keep the Forum informed of developments within the SWF, and I hope that many members will wish to attend the wildfire conference in November.  I will circulate a programme as soon as this is available. 

Muirburn Code Review

The Muirburn Group last met in July 2014. At this meeting the Group supported the proposals contained in the report from the Critique Phase. This had considered the existing Code and the report then outlined proposals for the review. There was support for a move towards training, the adoption of an intelligent approach to muirburn, and the awareness of the importance of communication.

I met with Scottish Government and SNH in December to discuss the situation. It was agreed that the proposals made in the report from the Critique Phase would be accepted and that it would now be possible to proceed to develop a review of the Code. The Critique Phase report proposed that this would be the start of a process, and that the review would not simply be the production of a revised booklet.

It was agreed that the first phase of the review process should be the production of a Practitioners’ Guide. Ideally, this would be in place for the start of the muirburn season in 2015, but this is looking unlikely.

The next action rests with the Scottish Government and this will be to produce tender documents for the first phase of the review.  If the Forum's tender is accepted, our input would be funded, under the terms agreed for commissioned work. Until this tender is approved, we cannot make further progress. 

As soon as I receive tender documents, I would like to convene a meeting of the Muirburn Group to discuss the response, and to form a Steering Group to help develop the tender documents and, if successful, to start work on the review process.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Scottish Land & Estates Newsletter

Follow this link to the latest newsletter from Scottish Land & Estates.

Moorland Forum members may be interested in the articles on:

  • The SL&E response to the Land Reform consultation
  • Wildlife Estates - 23 estates accredited, 5 pending.
  • Rule changes for farm and forestry tracks
  • The HT / GWCT Golden Plover Award 2015

Thursday, 5 February 2015

International Year of Soils - Thematic Groups

Five Soil Thematic Groups – Soil Water, Soil and Climate, Soil and Biodiversity, Soil and Land Use, Soil and Society - have been created to provide information on potential International Year of Soils activities and identify what is achievable during the IYS which ends on World Soils Day, 5th December 2015. 

The Administrator represented The Director at the first meeting of the Soil and Land Use Group on 28th January.  Forum member organisations represented included: SEPA, NFUS, JHI, Scottish Government, The Heather Trust and SRUC.

The Groups have been tasked to:
  • Raise awareness of the benefits that soils can bring to society, organisations and individuals;
  • Support and provide integration between organisations in achieving higher impact from their activities; and
  • Examine how resources (human and / or financial) can be pulled together.
The Royal Highland Show was identified as a key opportunity for collaboration and will be discussed further at the next meeting. An education focus group has been proposed to create resources and learning sessions for educational professionals.  Anyone interested in participating in this should contact Kirsten Leask.

The aim through the year is to achieve greater recognition of soils and their benefits and the group will be examining how to carry forward and maximise the use of combined staff and material resources.

Colleen McCulloch is the point of contact for more information.  Contact details are available from the Administrator – use the Moorland Forum contact form.