Monday, 28 October 2013

Compromise can provide positive outcomes for all

Chloe Palmer shares her experience of inter-professional working in a unique moorland landscape

As a farm environmental advice consultant, I often work with people from other land-based professions. Recently  I was lucky enough to be commissioned to prepare the Higher Level Scheme (HLS) application and Farm Environmental Plan for Tinker Hill by the agent responsible for the management of the moor and I was reminded how enjoyable and positive such inter-professional working can be.
Tinker Hill, near Carlecotes on the boundary of South and West Yorkshire is a unique moorland site. Rising to 410 metres (1345 feet) and extending to just 236 hectares (583 acres), it is small compared to most moors. It is surrounded on all sides by a public road and residences, and farms are dotted around its boundary, yet it feels wild and remote. Ten years ago it was restored from a purple moor grass (Molinea caerulea) monoculture to a diverse mosaic of species rich dwarf shrub vegetation by moorland restoration expert, Geoff Eyre. That makes it a particularly special place.  It’s also one of the most important sites for breeding waders in the north of the Peak District. Detailed survey data produced by expert ornithologist, David Pearce together with information from the Peak District Wader Recovery Project Officer, Tara Challoner, have shown that the site is of regional importance for curlew, golden plover and snipe and has the potential for re-colonisation by twite.
But, important as the wildlife are, drawing up the application was a careful balancing act that had to take a whole range of factors into consideration.  That’s where inter-professional working comes into its own. Tinker Hill is managed as a grouse moor, albeit not intensively, and careful rotational burning takes place on the drier areas and in the vicinity of the grouse butts. The tenant grazes the local breed of white-faced woodland sheep on the moor.  He is also the gamekeeper and his careful control of vermin has benefitted the wader populations. Much of the moor drains towards a Yorkshire Water reservoir.
On areas of blanket bog, under the terms of HLS, Natural England’s preference is for no burning or, if it has been burnt historically, they stipulate this should be done a rotation of at least twenty years.  But this long burning rotation is at odds with the needs of some of the breeding waders on Tinker Hill, which need a variety of ages of heath species to feed and breed successfully. On lower, south-facing moors such as Carlecotes, where heather grows faster than on moors at higher altitudes, long burning rotations can increase the potential for wild fires. The ease with which the site can be accessed on all sides places it at greater risk of an accidental blaze. And of course this ‘leggy’ heather is not favoured by grouse moor managers because it provides insufficient food for grouse chicks.
Compromise was needed.  By referring to photographs, survey records and evidence provided by experts including Geoff Eyre, Tara Challoner and David Pearce, we were able to build up a picture of how the past management of the site had contributed to its special status. With the valuable input of the agent and the tenant, supported by my own survey results, we identified areas of heather on peat which could be burnt more frequently.  There were also those parts of the moor which were wet blanket bog dominated by cotton-grass which could be left un-burnt without prejudicing the survival of the breeding waders or creating an unacceptable fire risk.
This is an exceptional example of a diverse moor with some of the greatest variety of heath vegetation I have seen in the Peak District. To ignore the successes of the historic management regime and restoration work and the investment of effort by all parties to create a unique site would seem at best naïve and at worst, neglectful. Moors provide many positive environmental and socio-economic outcomes in addition to carbon sequestration.
By working together, we have been able to achieve a result which benefits all parties.  As well as ensuring a favourable environment for wildlife, the ten year HLS agreement will provide much needed income so that the excellent work at Carlecotes can continue.

Chloe Palmer, Farm & Environment Consultancy Ltd,

Friday, 11 October 2013

Farm advisers: how does their advice measure up?

Emilie Vrain, a PhD student in Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia explains about her research on advisers and diffuse water pollution

For many farmers Catchment Sensitive Farming might seem like yet another thing to think about.  At the moment, certain farm practices to help reduce water pollution are regulated, whilst others are being recommended as best practice. If farmers aren’t employing best practice, who might be well-placed to influence them, and persuade them of the need to make changes?    

I am currently working on the Defra Demonstration Test Catchment programme, which is all about identifying the most effective means of reducing diffuse pollution.  Land management practices are key to this and my thesis focuses on farmer attitudes and behaviours and the role of farm advisers in helping farmers to implement mitigation measures.

The research has given me a great opportunity to travel around the three regions of England - North West, South West and East Anglia, and talk to a wide variety of people who provide advice to farmers, such as independent agronomists, consultants, vets, water companies, environmental organisations, government staff, farmer networks and sale reps. The kinds of questions I have been trying to answer are:

-          Who recommends which mitigation measures where?
-          How do recommendations differ between sources of advice?
-          How effective are the recommendations/ is success rate monitored?
-          What is the most effective pathway to deliver advice (who and how)?

In addition, each year the Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative conducts a national telephone survey to collect evidence on the effectiveness of their scheme.  They have kindly allowed me to add two questions designed to find out the degree of trust farmers place in different advisers.  I’m hoping that this will provide a different perspective that I can compare with the results of the farm adviser interviews.

Then, this winter I will be carrying out more in-depth interviews with farmers to explore their perspective in more detail.  I want to find out their views on the most suitable source of advice for diffuse water pollution mitigation measures and whether advice alone is enough to prompt them to adopt particular measures.  If not, we need to understand what is needed to encourage them to change their land management practices.

To find out more about the research contact Emilie Vrain