Keeping up to date on agroecosystems activity

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Having finally decided to embark on blogging by way of keeping clients and self up to date on what agroecosystems has been spending time on, this first entry aims to catch up on the last 18 months!

Since the beginning of ‘agroecosystems ltd’ in early 2012 work has been a broad and varied array of deskwork, survey and hands-on practical. In the absence of mainstream rural development/agri-environment plans diversification has been the name of the game which keeps days interesting at least.

SRDP plans for designated sites and helping to negotiate SNH Management Agreements have taken up much of the first year, and this month sees the conclusion to several schemes.

Bracken proposed for control
Bracken proposed for management

These are on priority sites where the key habitats is considered to be in need of management due to ‘unfavourable’ condition of the notifiable habitats or species, and of late have been focused on the uplands where uniform heather or extensive bracken has been proposed for management, alongside predator control, stock grazing introduction or control, and scrub management.

Another site has brought complex discussion and bartering on the ecological, social and cultural merits of hill farming and crofting against a backdrop of wild deer and climatic impacts on peat. Protecting or restoring Scotland’s eroding peatlands is a key focus of government funds for both conservation and carbon capture, but equally High Nature Value Farming (generally extensive, upland, mixed livestock systems) and the importance of hill farming for wider rural and environmental benefits are also high on the agenda.

deer Cairngorm resized
Deer have their rightful place but sustainable upland management is about balance

With some of the lowest stocking rates in our recent history, hill farming units are disappearing and those remaining are being squeezed by costs and a lack of labour. Teasing out the impacts of natural (if climate change can be seen as natural) and managed impacts is not easy in itself, especially with a wild herbivore component. Managing these impacts is equally complex with the importance of both deer and agriculture to the local economy but with sheep numbers falling to below a critical mass for some units and few cattle left on the hills we must look forward at equitable partnership approaches and not allow hill farming to be out-competed for the role they can play in rural development and ecosystem management. Of course the uplands must be protected for the future, but the future (interests) must also be protected for the uplands….to ensure the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater!

A male dotterel in the early morning light

Another work area kept the focus in the hills by bringing several months of upland bird surveys across some of the Highland’s finest uplands.  While the weather of 4 seasons was seen in 2, these days also gave spectacular landscape and wildlife views and many hours of perfect solitude! Our uplands are very special indeed.