Scottish Ecology, Environment and Conservation Conference 2018: Panel Debate

In this blog, Elsa Kivinen, a second year undergraduate studying Geography and sustainable development at St Andrews University, reflects on a lively debate at the third student conference #SEECC2018

Shown here, from left to right: Professor James Curran, Chair of Board of Directors of James Hutton Institute, and member of Scottish Government’s Climate Change Delivery Board. Nicola Melville, Senior Scientist, SEPA, and Conservation Committee member with Scottish Wildlife Trust. Edward Baxter, Landowner, farmer and PhD student. Susan Davies, Director of Conservation, and Board member of the James Hutton Institute, and Venture Trust. Professor Des Thompson, SNH’s Principal Adviser on Science and Biodiversity, and Chairman of the Field Studies Council.

Shown here, from left to right: Professor James Curran, Chair of Board of Directors of James Hutton Institute, and member of Scottish Government’s Climate Change Delivery Board. Nicola Melville, Senior Scientist, SEPA, and Conservation Committee member with Scottish Wildlife Trust. Edward Baxter, Landowner, farmer and PhD student. Susan Davies, Director of Conservation, and Board member of the James Hutton Institute, and Venture Trust. Professor Des Thompson, SNH’s Principal Adviser on Science and Biodiversity, and Chairman of the Field Studies Council.

What are the greatest environmental challenges facing Scotland? How do we conserve biodiversity if nobody has any experience of it? What is the vision for our uplands in 50 years’ time? What impacts – positive or negative – will Brexit have on the Scottish environment?

These questions, among others, were selected by more than 100 conference delegates, mainly students, to be debated at the third Scottish Ecology, Environment and Conservation Conference 2018 (#SEECC2018 ), held in March at St Andrews. The theme was ‘The environment of Scotland in the next 50 years’ and the panel members included representatives of key stakeholders in Scotland. 

In an enjoyably interactive debate, wonderfully chaired by Sally Thomas, Director of Policy and Advice, SNH, the panel debate started with the question receiving the most votes from the audience:

What are the greatest environmental challenges facing Scotland?

Climate change and the disconnect from nature were mentioned first by Nicola and then Susan, who also highlighted the importance of ensuring that social inequality should not prevent people from engaging with environmental issues. Edward added that the total area of agricultural holdings in Scotland is around 70% of Scotland’s total land area, and unfortunately the price of food does not reflect its cost to the environment.

James wondered whether it is worthwhile to invest enormous amounts of financial capital in research trying to find undetected oil reserves when we know we should already diversify the energy portfolio towards more renewable energies.

Members of audience were eager to participate in the debate, too. One of the issues that came up was how to discourage excessive consumerism and how to make sure that states and actors share responsibilities fairly and justly, because in the near future, many developing countries are going to have increased carbon dioxide emissions due to their development, and a rising ‘middle-class’ consisting of affluent people!

The second question addressed was:

How do we conserve biodiversity if nobody has any experience of it?

James stated that he considers regulation to be one of the most effective ways of securing nature and biodiversity conservation, especially in cases of urgency. However, regulations often take time to be applied and require a good understanding of the time and place they are going to be implemented in, and some ethical problems arise e.g. who pays: the polluter or the ecosystem user?

Another way to encourage people of all ages to conserve biodiversity would be to make them appreciate what it has to offer. Edward suggested secondary school interdisciplinary outreach should improve young people’s awareness of the origins of their food and environmental processes. Both Susan and Nicola concurred , commenting that that efficient ways of preserving biodiversity are through increasing environmental awareness on different levels, encouraging interactive opportunities (such as this conference) and reminding young citizens of their skills so that they would not forget them.

Phd research student and her field assistant surveying a quadrat in Glen Tilt. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Phd research student and her field assistant surveying a quadrat in Glen Tilt. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Des concluded by reminding everyone how difficult it is to measure things such as “nature deficit” and environmental awareness, but that there are many ways to do it, with each having its own issues. His open-ended question was: would success be best measured by the amount of knowledge of, care for, or interest in the environment?

What is the vision for our uplands in 50 years’ time?

The consensus was that Scotland will probably have more forest cover, and that the land will be managed for multiple benefits rather than for one interest. However, assessing and prioritising those multiple benefits is very difficult because different stakeholders value different aspects of nature – everyone benefits from different components, and often these are derived from opposing strategies (trees versus windfarms versus open grouse moors). There was a consensus that we need a public conversation on this, to develop ideas on “multiple benefit approaches”. It was noted that one of the biggest private landowners in Scotland is a the billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, who is encouraging wide-scale ‘rewilding’, but even that does not ensure that rewilding takes off as a major land use. Edward concluded that as long as private land-owners are willing to negotiate about ‘their’ land-use, we can remain optimistic about the future of Scottish uplands.

Scots pine growing beside the River Feshie, Glenfeshie. ©Lorne Gill

Scots pine growing beside the River Feshie, Glenfeshie. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

What impacts, positive or negative, will Brexit have on the Scottish environment?

This unavoidable question was first answered by James, who expressed his disappointment about Brexit. Possibility for improvement exists, but is not likely, James, felt. According to him, waving goodbye to European Court of Justice would be a huge loss for both the environment and people in the UK.

Nicola worried about the loss of jobs and research funding, which are both likely to be an inevitable consequence of the UK leaving the EU.

On the other hand, the decentralisation of decision-making could benefit those who feel perplexed by the complexity of EU regulations. For example, Nicola commented that waste management legislation is perceived by many as complex, and if the UK targets are not set as high as by the EU, the future would not look grim – but of course, that could be dire environmentally. Ultimately, the targets set by the EU are outcome-based and it is up to the Member States to discuss the implementation processes on a national level. Edward and Susan were trying to look forward with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude, stating for example, that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is hardly great for advocating environmentally-friendly practices; if the UK sets ambitious goals on its own, there is hope. Des advised that we ‘should move on from grieving!’

The consensus was that no matter how you voted in the Brexit referendum, the interest of everyone is to make sure the environment does not suffer from the political and legal changes.

To conclude, despite being one of the youngest participants, I felt very welcomed and positively surprised by the accessibility and breadth of information presented here and covered during the rest of the two-day conference. It was highly motivating to listen to both the panel speakers and the students presenting their studies and to think where I could be when I reach different stages in my academic career.

Posted in conference, conservation, Ecology | Tagged , , , , ,

Grab a camera – help chart how the Wester Ross is changing.

If you are lucky enough to be in the Wester Ross National Scenic Area, SNH could really do with your help with the Wester Ross Scenic Photo project. Elli Carlisle tells us more.

The Wester Ross Scenic Photo Project is an exciting citizen science project that aims to narrate the evolving landscape of the National Scenic Area.

Through analysing repeat photographs, submitted by you, from selected points around Wester Ross, we can monitor changes in the landscape and also record the area for future generations.

If you’re travelling through Wester Ross, you can help us develop a more continuous story charting this change by sharing your photographs from particular places and take a few minutes to enjoy some of the amazing views around the National Scenic Area at the same time.

Wester Ross contains some of the most iconic mountains on the west coast such as An Teallach, Slioch and Beinn Eighe. Lochs and the western seaboard add to the variety, and the area also contains distinctive coastal villages like Torridon and Gairloch.

Although it looks timeless, much of this landscape has evolved through the centuries and it continues to change both in the long term and seasonally.

During the spring, the regrowth of leaves and other vegetation can produce an invigorating explosion of colour after the muted colours and stark beauty of winter. The warmer and longer days make it an ideal time to get out into Wester Ross and appreciate this.

How can you help?

By recreating photographs from one or more of the six project viewpoints across the Wester Ross National Scenic Area.

There are six easily accessible photo viewpoints across Wester Ross National Scenic Area: photographs from one or all of them will be valuable. Their locations and instructions for taking part are on our web page.

No photography know-how is needed and you can use any camera, from a phone to a digital SLR.

Over the next few years the photos collected will be used to produce a picture of how the landscape is changing. The longer the project continues the more useful it will be. You will be able to see all the uploaded photographs along with news on our Scenic Photo project web page.


Posted in National Scenic Areas, photography, SNH | Tagged , ,

Celebrate #JohnMuirDay the John Muir Way

Things are gearing up for the John Muir Day celebrations which also marks the long-distance walking and cycling route’s fourth anniversary. Ewan McGill is the communications manager at the Central Scotland Green Network Trust (CSGNT), which manages the John Muir Way, one of Scotland’s Great Trails, and tells us more.



Saturday 21 April will mark the fourth anniversary of the opening of the John Muir Way. It would have also been the 180th birthday of the man who inspired this route which stretches 134 miles across the heartlands of central Scotland. Prior to the route’s launch, I wasn’t aware of the Scottish-born conservationist, John Muir – and I suspect I am not alone there.

It is surprising as Muir’s impact in America is so well known with its world-renowned national parks, the establishment of which was a product of Muir’s campaigning. So it is pleasing to see so many of the partner organisations we work with taking part in the John Muir Day celebrations, helping to raise the profile of this important Scot’s legacy and philosophy through the diverse landscapes and rich heritage of central Scotland.

A host of activities have been arranged across Scotland to mark John Muir Day, so here are my top five that you can enjoy as part of a visit to the John Muir Way:

1. Volunteer for a ‘Paddle Pickup’ on the John Muir Way

Scottish Canals Volunteer Week Pic Peter Devlin © Scottish Canals

Scottish Canals Volunteer Week Pic Peter Devlin © Scottish Canals

Ten volunteers are being sought to take to canoes to tackle litter floating in the canal. Organised by Sustrans and led by Scottish Canals and Scottish Waterways Trust, this water-based litter pick up on the Union Canal in Edinburgh will be held on Friday 20 April.

Young people can apply to take part through the Young Scot Active Rewards programme which is encouraging young people to be more active more often in the outdoors during the 2018 Year of Young People. For further information visit the website.

2. Join a trek to visit a fantasy drama castle

John Muir Celebrations -Blackness castle © Becky Duncan

John Muir Celebrations -Blackness castle © Becky Duncan

Those looking to get out and explore Scotland’s woodlands and shorelines are invited to join the Friends of Kinneil on their annual trek from the historic Kinneil House and Museum to Blackness Castle on Saturday 21 April. Blackness Castle has starred in the hit time-travel drama Outlander, standing in for Fort William. Places can be booked online.

Kinneil House will also hold an open day with costumed interpreters and entertainers on Sunday April 22 from 12 noon to 4pm, one of a series of open days here throughout the summer.

3. Make a bee-line for the John Muir Way

John Muir Celebrations -John Muir Pollinator Way © Becky Duncan

John Muir Celebrations -John Muir Pollinator Way © Becky Duncan

If you would like to help increase habitats for pollinators, Balgreen Community Garden is holding a spring clean and planting event on Thursday 19 April, 10.30am to 1pm. The garden forms part of the John Muir Pollinator Way project, aiming to create hundreds of mini-wildflower meadows that provide shelter and forage along the route for pollinating insects. Those interested can contact or 0131 455 7367.

4. Snap up the opportunity to get closer to nature

Those hoping to capture the moment are in luck as Historic Environment Scotland is holding a wildlife photography for beginners class on the Saturday (21 April). The event from 4.30pm to 6.30pm must be booked in advance by calling 0131 652 8150 or emailing

John Muir Celebrations -views of Loch Lomond © Becky Duncan

John Muir Celebrations -views of Loch Lomond © Becky Duncan

5. Picture the landscapes that Muir enjoyed

John Muir’s Birthplace in Dunbar is celebrating Muir with an exhibition titled ‘Kindred Souls.’ The event, which is currently running, showcases the work of Muir’s close friend, William Keith, a respected Californian landscape painter. The John Muir Birthplace Trust can be found at, on Facebook and Twitter.

For further information about the events and the John Muir Way, please visit the dedicated website on the 134 mile route with key information to help people plan their trip.  You can also like the John Muir Way on Facebook and follow the John Muir Way on Twitter.


Posted in John Muir, Scotland's Great Trails, SNH, Volunteering, Year of Young People | Tagged , , ,

#CycleForNature – The final stretch: Ullapool to Kinlochewe

Blessed mostly with fantastic weather, Francesca cycled 252 miles last week, sailed on six Ferries and visited five SNH offices (with a wave to Portree). The final part of #CycleForNature leg two took Francesca from Ullapool to Kinlochewe. Let’s hear how it went…

After a meeting with colleagues in the Ullapool office and a radio interview with Two Lochs Radio, we headed down to the harbour to meet Noel Hawkins of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, project manager for the Living Seas project. Noel talked about his work in marine conservation and his collaboration with SNH, including engagement with school pupils which led to Ullapool becoming the first plastic straw free village in the UK. Inspirational stuff.

Then back on the road for the trip to Kinlochewe. I was accompanied by colleagues who pointed out features of this dramatic landscape as we went, including how community ownership of the land is growing with really positive results. Part of the route went through the Wester Ross National Scenic Area, where a pilot photo project is recording changes in the landscape with photos taken by the public. Stopping to take photos at viewpoint one, Glen Docherty, and viewpoint four, Beinn Eighe, was an absolute delight. Truly beautiful spots.

At Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, I had a great discussion with reserve colleagues about the amazing work done by volunteers. Beinn Eighe is brilliantly set up for volunteer parties and without them we would not be able to manage the reserve in the way we want. I also learned about the unique genetic properties of the Scots pine here: collecting seed so this genetic rarity can be maintained is an important role on the reserve.

I also declared the Beinn Eighe NNR Visitor Centre open for the season! Around 10,000 people per year pass through its doors.

And that was #CycleForNature leg two  — a fantastic and inspiring week!

If you can help me raise funds for the Scottish Association for Mental Health, please visit my Just Giving page. Thank you.

Best wishes


Posted in Access, active travel, biodiversity, citizen science, Community engagement, Cycle for Nature, cycling, Land management, machair, National Nature Reserves, National Scenic Areas, Natural Health Service, Protected Areas, Scotland's Great Trails, Scotland's Protected Places, SNH, Staff profile, sustainable travel, Uncategorized

Learn from the best – award winning Ruthven Farm

Ruthven farm outside Tomintoul has become something of a magnet for journalists and cameras since farmers Jim and Lesley Simmons successfully scooped the 2016 Cairngorms Nature Farm Award and the more recent Food and Farming accolade in the 2017 Nature of Scotland Awards hosted by the RSPB.  Read about Jim’s vision.

Gascon cattle in the snow on Ruthven farm. (c) Jim Simmons

Gascon cattle in the snow on Ruthven farm. (c) Jim Simmons

The Simmons moved to Ruthven in 2006 after being the successful applicants of a 15-year limited duration tenancy for the 800 acre farm owned by the Crown Estate. The competition was tough and 25 others tendered for the farm. The Estate were interested in applicant’s proposals for the future and the strong environmental plan the Simmons produced worked in their favour.

Hedges and woodland providing multiple benefits at Ruthven farm.© Jim Simmons

Hedges and woodland providing multiple benefits at Ruthven farm.© Jim Simmons

The aim at Ruthven is to produce quality livestock extensively with low input and the 25 Gascon cattle and 800 ewes are a luxury product. Jim’s ethos of doing what you can with the land without impacting on the environment stems from his childhood in East Anglia where his father was a farm manager. Here he spent his time outside appreciating wildlife and this enjoyment of nature has continued ever since.

In 2008/09 the farm entered the Scottish Rural Development Programme, Rural Priorities scheme and they laid 4500m of hedge as well as 5 acres of broadleaf woodland planting – an impressive 36,000 trees! This has had the dual benefit of providing shelter for livestock as well as creating wildlife corridors. Other work undertaken included riparian fencing for the protection of freshwater pearl mussel populations and the creation of ponds and scrapes. The surrounding area has the greatest density of wading birds found in the UK, in particular lapwing (known locally as Peesie’s), curlew, both of which are in decline across the UK, and oystercatcher.

In 2015/16 Ruthven was enrolled in the current Agri-Environment Climate Scheme with measures including creating species rich grassland, a significant area of wader-grazed grassland, and cutting rush pasture all designed to benefit wading birds. The success of these options will be determined by RSPB monitoring of the farm wader population through the Peesie Project.

Existing hedges are also managed through the scheme, thus retaining wildlife corridors suited to a variety of different animals. Improving water quality through riparian management i.e. grass margins, scrub/tree protection also benefits interests of the River Spey SAC and important species such as salmon, freshwater pearl mussel and sea lamprey.

Jennifer Heatley, the site officer for the River Spey SAC says;

The protection of floodplain woodland is also commendable as it provides habitat for otters and also diversity to help support the aquatic river ecosystem upon which the salmon and other species depend.”

Ponds created at Ruthven provide a wildlife refuge throughout the seasons.©Jim Simmons

Ponds created at Ruthven provide a wildlife refuge throughout the seasons.©Jim Simmons

Jim modestly credits the assistance of his agent at Allathan Associates as well as the support of the Crown Estate and the beneficial sporting management of the Estate with the success they have seen while recognising the favourable starting point of good habitat on the farm.

Most recently Ruthven has been central to the innovative trial of the Natural Capital Protocol on three units across the Crown Estate. The results of the trial are expected to be published shortly but the willingness to participate in this approach demonstrates the Simmons’ ability to think outside of the box and approach the farm’s potential in new ways.

Ruthven farm © Jim Simmons

Ruthven farm © Jim Simmons

You can follow the work going on at Ruthven Farm on their Facebook page.




Posted in Farming | Tagged , , , ,

#CycleForNature – A journey through a changing landscape

Days seven, ei‎ght and nine of #CycleForNature saw me journey from Mallaig, through Skye to North Uist, down to South Uist, back North and then through Harris and Lewis, and finally the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool. The most notable element of this journey (other than the amazing weather!) has been the constantly changing landscape. Rocky outcrops in Skye, the flatlands in Uist and the more mountainous Harris and Lewis.

All of which lead to changing biodiversity and it was fascinating to learn about the special qualities of these islands from SNH colleagues. From the fragile and vitally important machair, to habitats where sea eagles are thriving, this is a special place and SNH has a key role in ensuring it remains so. So far, I have been lucky enough to see three sea eagles and a golden eagle. Quite a highlight!


A quick pause to take part in the #WildFlowerHunt

Of course, people need to live on the islands too‎. Crofting is a way of life for many. I spoke to crofters on Uist who stressed their important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the machair and told me how SNH helps them do so. Crofters also want to play a positive role in bringing visitors to the islands – many of whom come for the unique nature – and to support economic development. But there are challenges too: geese is a hot topic and SNH occupies the crucial and difficult space of balancing a range of interests on this subject.


With excellent guides, Patrick and Mairi from our Uist office

In Lewis I saw a different side of Connecting People and Nature. Fish ‘n’ Trips is one of a growing number of wildlife tourism businesses in the Western Isles. The highly knowledgeable skipper, Lewis Mackenzie, took colleagues and me on a sea tour from Keose where ‎he described the changing ecology of the sea loch. We saw one sea eagle (the other two I saw were in North Uist) and one golden eagle. Lewis also opened my eyes to all the potential economic value in the sea (seaweed harvested here finds its way to the finest restaurants in London) and Lewis is determined to ensure that his business does not damage this extraordinary environment.


About to board the Fish ‘n’ Trips boat for a wildlife trip and to hear about the importance of wildlife tourism to the Western Isles.

I have followed the Hebridean Way for much ‎of my route. This 185 mile long distance cycle route has been supported by SNH and is proving to be a magnet for cyclists. I will need to come back and finish the job!

Posted in Access, active travel, biodiversity, Community engagement, Cycle for Nature, cycling, National Nature Reserves, National Scenic Areas, National Walking and Cycling Network, Natural Health Service, Protected Areas, SNH, Staff profile, sustainable travel, Uncategorized

Get the vibe!

A couple of weeks ago, as one his last engagements as SNH’s Area Manager for Forth, Andy Dorin had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by the Institute of Directors and our friends at SEPA. Andy tells us more.

Scottish Environment Business Awards 2018

“The recent Edinburgh launch of the Scottish Environment Business Awards, VIBES gave me a fantastic opportunity to meet with so many people from small and medium sized businesses interested in the  environment. SEPA’s charismatic director, Terry Ahearn, spoke compellingly about “One Planet Prosperity”, and how Scotland was currently using resources at a rate equivalent to three Planet Earths, while of course we actually live on just the one planet. Terry wasn’t arguing for a hair-shirt approach – far from it, but he did set out how progressive companies were moving beyond compliance to organisations that excelled in good resource management – supported by SEPA. Terry argued that as well as being essential for our survival on the planet, this made good business sense. Businesses need to distinguish themselves from their competitors and as customers and clients are become increasingly discerning, good environmental credentials can help win new markets, and save costs.”

The VIBES award celebrates businesses going the extra mile for the environment. Applications are open until 27 April and businesses can nominate themselves. This year’s categories are:

  • Innovation
  • Management (250+ employees and <250 employees)
  • Environmental Product or Service
  • Hydro Nation Water Innovation
  • Sustainable and Active Travel Award
  • Circular Economy
  • Green Team
  • Best Micro Business

    VIBES Awards 2017 winners.

    VIBES Awards 2017 winners.

Speakers from two companies described how the environment was really important to their business.  The Glenmorangie Distillery, 2017 Vibes Hydro Nation Winner  based in Tain, is the home of the Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch Whisky brand. The site distils, matures and produces this iconic product. Glenmorangie whisky is sold in 135 countries worldwide. Dr. Peter Nelson, Glenmorangie’s Operations Director, described  how the company had dramatically enhanced water quality and biodiversity within the Dornoch Firth through a combination of waste treatment process and regeneration of a historic oyster reef.  By installing an anaerobic digester system Glenmorangie has reduced the biological load discharge to sea by 95% and reduced the energy use of the distillery considerably.

The Oyster bed is designed to clean up the last 5% of the biological load and has been 10 years in the planning. Excitingly it will restore oysters to the Firth, a Special Area of Conservation. These are a species that had been lost to the area, having been fished to extinction in Victorian times.  The restoration of the reef will act as a large bio-filter and protect the shoreline close to the distillery buildings from potential global warming effects of higher seas. It will also create a natural reef which will further enhance the biodiversity of the Area. It’s an approach that could be extended more widely, including my patch of the Firth of Forth which has similarly lost its oyster fishery.  As well as being important for the environment Peter explained how he saw this approach as protecting the company’s assets, saving money and enhancing its environmental credibility.

Sydney Chasin – founder of The Healthy Crop.

Sydney Chasin – founder of The Healthy Crop.

The second speaker was Sydney Chasin – founder of The Healthy Crop,  makers of the lil’POP snack and winner of the Scottish Edge competition for new entrepreneurs. Lil’POP is a tasty, healthy snack with a twist, made from sorghum grain in the UK. This has been used as a crop for 8,000 years old – the snack is naturally gluten free, vegan friendly, GM-free and high in fibre. Sorghum is also a drought-resistant crop meaning that it can grow where other grains cannot and can be grown without irrigation even in drier parts of the world (unlike many other cereal crops). Sydney’s hope is that this will reduce the environmental footprint of snackers  worldwide as well as potentially offering an environmentally friendly food crop to drought stricken parts of the world.


Lil’POP is the first snack of its kind in Europe to pop sorghum, producing a tasty popcorn that is smaller in size than regular corn and more satisfying. Sydney explains that during the sorghum popping process, the hull of the corn does not detach meaning that there are no annoying hulls that get caught in your teeth while eating. Additionally, unlike popcorn, the unpopped seeds are soft and edible to eat.

It's the lil things

With the snack now unveiled to the world, Sydney is beginning to attract investment to the business to allow for further expansion – including the release of two new flavours – throughout the remainder of 2018.

“If you know of a business with great environmental credentials, then encourage them to apply for the 2018 VIBES awards. There are events around the country for anyone interested and the VIBES website is full of useful information. Failing that, try a wee dram of Glenmorangie with some lilPOPs – I can assure you it’s an unusual and delicious taste sensation.”

Posted in Awards | Tagged , , ,

Agroecology: in farmers’ words

SNH, with other agencies in the Land Use Policy Group (LUPG)*, has published a report on farmers’ experiences of transition to agroecological approaches. The Organic Research Centre undertook the work with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. Here, we describe what farmers told us.

Woodland egg production provide an enriched range for hens. ©Organic Research Centre

Woodland egg production provide an enriched range for hens. ©Organic Research Centre

It is a time of great change for farmers and farming in Scotland. Farming has a big effect on our environment – on the landscapes and wildlife we cherish, on the biodiversity, soils, air and water we all depend on – and numerous discussions are underway to make sure we have a sustainable, profitable farming industry. Recently there has been much renewed interest in agroecology, an approach to farming which involves applying ecological principles to the design and management of agricultural production.

As part of the LUPG, we have previously investigated how agroecology can produce more output from the same area of land and increase contributions to our natural capital while reducing negative environmental impacts, a process known as sustainable agricultural intensification. We have also sought to learn from experiences in other European countries where agroecology is more actively promoted than in the UK.

However, we also wanted to hear from the farmers themselves: What is their experience of transitioning to agroecological systems, and why did they do it? What challenges and opportunities did they face?

Pasture-fed cattle. ©Organic Research Centre

Pasture-fed cattle. ©Organic Research Centre

The Organic Research Centre in collaboration with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust interviewed on our behalf 14 farmers across Scotland, England and Wales who had embraced agroecological practices or systems. These farmers used a range of approaches including agroforestry, pasture-fed livestock systems, organic and integrated farming with direct drilling, and integration of livestock in arable operations.

A number of common themes emerged from these interviews. Farmers transitioning to an agroecological system recognized that progression is not necessarily linear: they embraced active learning and carried out experiments, sometimes unintentionally. Many farmers reported cognitive shifts in their understanding of farming, such as the need to “change the mindset” and began “accepting mess”. They also discovered new skills and developed increased self-reliance (e.g. “doing your own budgets” and “finding your own agronomic solutions”). Seeing positive outcomes on their farms encouraged them to further adopt agroecological practices.

Many farmers were looking at agroecology as a way to help future-proof their farm, for example through investment in the natural capital of soil and soil fertility. Some lamented that the grant system was not fit for purpose in terms of what they were trying to achieve as they dealt with technical and financial problems and their own uncertainty with new systems.

Agroforestry system with apple trees in Nottinghamshire. ©Organic Research Centre

Silvoarable agroforestry system* with apple trees in Nottinghamshire. ©Organic Research Centre (*crops grown in between widely spaced rows of trees)

Farmers also emphasised the importance of social aspects, especially relationships. The majority of farmers were first motivated to embrace agroecology by seeing practical examples and meeting other farmers and inspirational people, in the UK and abroad. They strongly valued opportunities to meet and exchange knowledge with like-minded people in the industry. Some also appreciated the level of engagement they managed to achieve with their local community.

These farmers’ stories suggest that farming systems which work with nature can be profitable and productive while providing environmental, social, and personal benefits.

The findings can be found in the report Transition to agroecological approaches: farmers’ experience , with recommendations for further action to boost agroecology including the need to develop a support programme for systems change beyond organic to facilitate the transition towards more sustainable farming systems.

* LUPG comprises Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Environment Agency and Northern Ireland Environment Agency. The previous two LUPG reports on agroecology can be found on SNH’s LUPG webpage.

Posted in Farming, Research | Tagged , , , , , ,

#Cycle for Nature – The Isle of Rum

One leg, five offices and 200 miles now behind her, on Monday Francesca set off on leg two of her ultimate active travel challenge.  Here she updates us on a fascinating trip to Rum National Nature Reserve.


#CycleForNature resumed with a bang on Monday! A visit to Rum and my first visit to the Small Isles. It was a stunning day ‎and my voyage of discovery began on the ferry, where National Nature Reserves (NNR) manager, Ian Sargent, told me about the wildlife on and around Rum. This includes the fascinating Manx shearwater birds which migrate from South America to breed on Rum, where they burrow. No Manx shearwater were spotted today, although I did see plenty of divers and (on the return journey) a solitary porpoise jumping through the waves.

It was great to meet members of staff and the community on this fascinating island reserve.

On Rum I met the SNH and NNR team who make up four of the 23 adult residents on the island. I also met members of the community who discussed their aspirations for the future. Investment from Marine Harvest is underway and the islanders see this as a catalyst to much needed economic development on the island. That, the strengthening role of the Isle of Rum Community Trust, and the potential asset transfer of the Castle, could all combine to be a powerful force in the island’s future. I was struck by the positive outlook of the members of the community whom I met ‎and by the fact that the role of SNH staff is intertwined with the community. The degree of collaboration is very high,  which is essential for a sustainable future.

I was able to visit briefly the iconic Kinloch Castle. SNH is working with the Friends of Kinloch Castle Association to ensure a sustainable future for the Castle, through a community asset transfer, which will be an important element of the island’s future success. Accompanied by expert SNH guides, Lesley, David and Colin, I also had a quick visit to Harris, site of the mausoleum of previous Castle inhabitants and also a herd of ponies who are put to work in the deer stalking season. It was then a race back to the ferry (we made it!) before a picturesque sailing back to Mallaig.

A fascinating visit to a fascinating island. Tomorrow I head to another great island – Skye.

Posted in Access, active travel, Cycle for Nature, National Nature Reserves, Rum NNR, SNH, Uncategorized

Parliamentary Reception: Celebrating the Year of Young People 2018

On the evening of 7 March, SNH hosted a Parliamentary Reception in partnership with Young Scot in celebration of the Year of Young People 2018 (YoYP2018). The Reception was held at The Scottish Parliament, Holyrood in Edinburgh. Our YoYP Graduate Placement, Steven Sinclair, provides an overview of this exciting evening.

The SNH and Young Scot Parliamentary Reception was attended by over 400 people and noted as one of the largest Receptions witnessed. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The SNH and Young Scot Parliamentary Reception was attended by over 400 people and noted as one of the largest receptions witnessed. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The Parliamentary Reception was a platform to recognise and celebrate the contributions and talents of young people; to highlight the work SNH and its partners do to encourage and empower young people to engage with and care for the natural environment; and to inspire organisations across Scotland to find new ways of working with and for young people. The Reception became an opportunity to discover new programmes and initiatives for young people to get involved with to shape the future of Scotland’s environment, and to meet with those working within nature and youth-based sectors.

The Year of Young People 2018 is the current Scottish Government’s themed year, and is driven by six key themes: Participation, Education, Equality and Discrimination, Health and Wellbeing, Enterprise and Regeneration, and Culture.

Over 600 young people and 200 stakeholders took part in the planning process, making recommendations about what the aims, objectives and themes of the year should be. Now that YoYP2018 is fully underway, the year has been used as an evolving movement by many organisations across Scotland to find new ways of working with young people by bringing them into the process through active participation in the design, planning and delivery of youth-focussed activities.

Gordon Hamilton (second from left), one of the key speakers, with fellow Year of Young People 2018 Ambassadors. © Lorne Gill/SNH

Gordon Hamilton (second from left), one of the key speakers, with fellow Year of Young People 2018 Ambassadors. © Lorne Gill/SNH

For SNH, YoYP2018 is an opportunity to continue the work we do with young people through a variety of projects (i.e. Path Skillz, Teaching in Nature and Learning In Local Greenspace (LiLG)), and to seek new ways to engage young people in the natural environment through our work. This process continues, with collaboration between SNH and YoungScot through ReRoute – Scotland’s Youth Biodiversity Panel – working to involve young people in Scotland’s nature and outdoors.

In the spirit of YoYP2018, the Parliamentary Reception was co-designed by young people. Traditional barriers to their involvement were identified by young people during the initial consultation and design and consequently challenged during the planning stage. Suggestions taken forward included a more casual dress code and abundant opportunities for people to learn, meet organisations and talk to fellow young people. A variety of engaging stalls, demonstrations and activities were developed: attendees were encouraged to participate with a Mix-and-Match nature bingo card adorned with one of the Scottish Big Five, encouraging intergenerational mingling and the collection of stamps for a branded SNH ‘keep-cup’. Some of the activities included finding another two individuals with the same Big Five animal as yourself; speaking to and learning more about the work of a young person; and asking an MSP what they propose to do for young people in 2018.

Young musicians of the Fèis Rois National Ceilidh Trail played for the duration of the event. © Lorne Gill/SNH

Young musicians of the Fèis Rois National Ceilidh Trail played for the duration of the event. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The event was launched by a line-up of key speakers. Spear-headed by YoYP Ambassador Gordon Hamilton and ReRoute members Ryan McDonagh and Katie Grimmond, they highlighted the importance of recognising the strength of young voices and their contributions to nature across Scotland. Following speeches from Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Jenny Gilruth MSP and SNH Chair Mike Cantlay, attendees were invited to make a pledge on the main centrepiece, The Pledge Wall, about what they will do for young people and nature in 2018. Encouragingly, the wall was filled with a plethora of positive ideas and promises indicating the passion and drive to ensure Scotland’s nature and young people exist at the centre of action.

The centrepiece of the Parliament Reception – the Pledge Wall – encouraged guests to share their what they will do for young people and nature in 2018. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The centrepiece of the Parliament Reception – the Pledge Wall – encouraged guests to share their what they will do for young people and nature in 2018. © Lorne Gill/SNH

To further highlight the contributions and talents of young people during the evening, the SNH gave over the controls of the corporate Twitter feed to four Young Scot Digital Creative Modern Apprentices, assisted by the SNH Year of Young People 2018 Graduate Placement, Steven Sinclair. For the duration of the event, these individuals sourced content for Twitter in the form of photographs and videos from the night, resources, updates and quotes from attendees. A beneficial undertaking, this opportunity allowed the MAs to refine their creative and team-working skills, while providing an exciting reactive experience for those unable to attend. A fruitful endeavour, content generated on the night positively demonstrated the high standard of creativity, and reactive innovation of young people using digital technologies.

For those unable to attend, the key speeches were streamed live on Facebook, and attendees were encouraged to share updates and messages on social media using the hashtags #connectingpeopleandnature and #YoYP2018 providing an excellent repository of media coverage from the event.

The evening was attended by over 400 people from environment and youth-based organisation across Scotland, remarked as one of the largest ever witnessed at Scottish Parliament. As such, the event was an ideal opportunity to showcase the variety of current projects young people are participating in as part of the YoYP2018 endeavour, to foster new working and contacts and develop new avenues of interest.

Lewis Gove (SNH Student Placement) talking to Parliamentary Reception attendees including SNH Chair Mike Cantlay and Jenny Gilruth MSP. © Lorne Gill/SNH

Lewis Gove (SNH Student Placement) talking to Parliamentary Reception attendees including SNH Chair Mike Cantlay and Jenny Gilruth MSP. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The Reception was attended by uniformed groups including the 1756 (Broxburn) Squadron Air Cadets (pictured), Scouts and Guides, among others. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The Reception was attended by uniformed groups including the 1756 (Broxburn) Squadron Air Cadets (pictured), Scouts and Guides, among others. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The event was attended by a variety of organisations including SNH MAs, Junior Rangers and Graduate Placements; Young Scot YoYP Ambassadors, Communic18 and ReRoute members and uniformed youth groups including the Sea Cadets, Air Cadets, Scouts and Guides.

Have a look at the compilation video of highlights put together by SNH Graduate Placement Steven Sinclair.

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