Photo credit: Oliver Moore – Temperate rainforest in Scotland

In recent weeks we have published new guidance on carrying out tick control in a safe, sustainable and responsible manner on the Moorland Management Best Practice website. I am grateful to all those members of Scotland’s Moorland Forum who contributed to this guidance and for helping to revise the published guidance relating to Mountain Hare management this year. The MMBP Steering Group makes a significant in-kind contribution to the development of guidance for practitioners and I also wish to thank the Muirburn Code Working Group for helping to take the Muirburn Code forwards.

Some of you may have heard that I am moving on to a new post with Plantlife in August. I will be working with the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest as Lichen and Bryophyte Advisor to the Saving Scotland’s Rainforest project. I am sad to be leaving The Heather Trust, where the work has been interesting and valuable, and the team have been so friendly and welcoming. Anne Gray will be taking up the reins for the time-being, in addition to her main duties, to help define the future role of the MMBP project in the light of the Scottish Government’s response to the Werritty review.

Maybe our paths will cross again one day.

Dr Oliver Moore (Outgoing MMBP Guidance Officer)

28th July 2021

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The interview for this part-time position was held one week before the first lock-down came into being. I did not see our director, Anne Gray, in person again until August and this away-day also gave me a chance to meet most Board members and a couple of other colleagues for the first time. Everything else about my first year has been working remotely. I am fortunate enough to have two tables at home so I use one for my Heather Trust role and the other for when I work as a Botanist/Senior Ecologist. Home-working is not alien to me since I spent three years living and working remotely in the northwest Highlands when I was carrying out my research. At least I don’t have to rely on a temperamental dongle device and good weather for internet access these days.

My work on the Moorland Management Best Practice (MMBP) project for Scotland’s Moorland Forum has been through telephone calls, emails, Zoom and Skype meetings. I’m looking forward to when I can see everyone in person for the first time rather than as a postage stamp display on my computer screen. This has not been a hindrance especially as everyone has been so welcoming and helpful. The work is interesting and has involved preparing sign-posting guidance on Juniper management in the uplands, revising published information in response to Mountain Hare becoming fully protected by law, chairing Steering Group meetings and writing up minutes. I have also established a working group for taking the Muirburn Code forwards and it has been valuable hearing the perspectives of practitioners, ecologists, representatives of the Scottish Wildfire Forum and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service among others – especially with regards to wildfire risk and prevention. Trying to get the message out to all those who use burning as a form of management remains a challenge.

The Heather Trust has also been commissioned to create some peatland management guidance. This will help those land managers who have had initial bog restoration work on their property and need advice on how best to promote its on-going recovery. I have taken the lead on this project with the help of a small working group. Please get in touch if you have any photographs showing examples of recovering bog that you are willing to share. I am particularly interested in pictures showing your peatland project at least 3 years after restoration work. We are also involved with collating the incidence and impacts caused by Heather Beetle. I am lucky enough to have a volunteer looking at this information for me – to see if there are any obvious trends over numerous years of data collection. We are hoping that it might point to something that can then be tested in a more scientific experiment or at least it might encourage a more formal annual survey so that proper analysis can become possible. There are other bits and pieces that I get involved with concerning the sustainable management of moorland. This has included promoting the MMBP project at a holistic moorland management event, participation in meetings looking at the natural capital concept for managing land, providing information and advice when I can help with enquiries that come our way and trying to keep pace with new forms of moorland management, such as rewilding.

It has been an education working for The Heather Trust and I have enjoyed grappling with different approaches to managing moorland in a sustainable manner for the benefit of everyone. I have come to realise that each property is different and what management works for one area of moorland may not be appropriate elsewhere. The natural capital concept might offer a means to ensure that provisioning services on any particular Estate are kept in balance with cultural, regulating/maintenance and supporting/enabling services but this is the subject for another blog.

Dr Oliver Moore (MMBP Guidance Officer)

10th June 2021

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by Sue Evans, GWCT Director Wales

(Originally published by GWCT on 18/5/21. Republished with the kind permission of the author)

Welsh Government are really keen to plant thousands of hectares of trees in Wales. The drive to plant trees to sequester carbon raises the potential conflict between carbon and biodiversity and at present it seems that carbon trumps biodiversity. In the news today there is talk of the need for biodiversity targets which could even up the playing field between the two.

One of our farming members Hywel, seems to have similar concerns writing to me recently he said “Would like some help and advice. On our mountain just above the farm we are seeing lots of curlews last couple of years not sure if they’ve always been around here maybe I’m just noticing them more. I see anything from one to 7 regular. We have crazy amounts of skylarks at moment. Anyway, adjoining the mountain is a block of land that’s just coming up for sale first time in a few generations. The land is very mountain like and hasn’t been touched by a plough for 65-70 years or maybe more. My concern is that there be tree planting investors looking to buy and destroying the habitat and biodiversity and some peat bogs. The cuckoo has always sung from there every year as long as I can remember. How can we deter wood planting city slickers from purchasing this land and changing the appearance of the hills for ever for the sake of some rich people’s pensions???”

Looking at the science it seems to me that the planting of trees is not the only method to sequester carbon on farms and grass covered organic soils should be measured for their contribution to carbon sequestration on farm. As I wrote in our response to the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper Consultation, when looking at tree planting for the sequestration of carbon there are two recent scientific studies which highlight how tree planting may not be the best option to increase carbon sequestration on farmland.

A new piece of research published March 24 in Nature, “A trade-off between plant and soil carbon storage under elevated CO2” explains how grassy ecosystems with very few trees are also important for storing carbon in soil. This is because tree planting in organic soils does not result in net carbon sequestration on decadal timescales. It suggests that when elevated carbon dioxide levels drive increased plant growth, it takes a surprisingly steep toll on another big carbon sink: the soil.

One likely explanation, the authors say, is that plants effectively mine the soil for nutrients they need to keep up with carbon-fuelled growth. Extracting the extra nutrients requires revving up microbial activity, which then releases CO2 into the atmosphere that might otherwise remain locked in soil.

The research suggests grasslands may absorb unexpectedly large amounts of carbon in the coming decades. Under a scenario where atmospheric CO2 doubles pre-industrial levels the researchers estimate carbon uptake in grassland soils will increase 8 percent, while carbon uptake by forest soils will remain roughly flat. That's in spite of CO2 enrichment giving a greater boost to biomass in forests (23 percent) than in grasslands (9 percent), partly because trees allocate below ground a relatively small portion of the carbon they absorb "From a biodiversity point of view, it would be a mistake to plant trees in natural grassland and savanna ecosystems," The lead author, César Terrer said. "Our results suggest these grassy ecosystems with very few trees are also important for storing carbon in soil."

As tree planting can potentially have a great positive or negative effect on biodiversity it is of paramount importance that tree planting is done in the right places. We believe that there is great opportunities for small scale planting on farms which can provide great benefit to biodiversity as well as carbon. We would also like other forms of carbon capture on farm recognised and funded in the same way as the developing markets withing the woodland and peatland carbon codes.

Policy and regulation based on best Scientific Evidence is crucial. We really need to know that policy and regulation is based on the latest and best scientific evidence which is constantly changing as research continues to increase our understanding. Future policy and regulation should be adaptable to be able to take into account the change necessary as identified through our scientific understanding.

Additional Reading:

March 24 in Nature, A trade-off between plant and soil carbon storage under elevated CO2

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