Call for hills revamp

Trees flourishing at Carrifran Wildwood.
Trees flourishing at Carrifran Wildwood.
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PEEBLES environmentalist Philip Ashmole is calling for more conservation work in the upper hills.

One of the forces behind the 650ha Carrifran Wild Wood between Selkirk and Moffat, the retired academic says there could be big gains from planting at the treeline and upwards.

Philip Ashmole.

Philip Ashmole.

“The area above the normal level of professional planting is an amazing habitat in Scotland, particularly in the southern uplands, from the treeline into montane scrub: it really has biodiversity benefits,” Mr Ashmole told TheSouthern.

The area is home to birds such as black grouse and ring ouzel, both of which are priority species on the government biodiversity list.

“It’s really good for them,” he said.

And planting at that level would add to the landscape and soften the edges of plantations, he believes.

He added: “It would really enhance the hills from a distance and for walkers. I hope something goes forward there in the long term.”

The former lecturer in ornithology, ecology and evolution at Yale and Edinburgh universities is one of the writers in a new book which assesses the environmental situation in Scotland.

The Changing Nature of Scotland, published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) last week, looks at the landscape and wildlife of the country in the light of changes in land use, climate change and economic uncertainties.

It came from an SNH conference where speakers were mostly from governmental or other large organisations.

Mr Ashmole was speaking as a grass roots campaigner: “I was mainly talking about what one can do from the grass roots, rather than the bigger initiative coming from the government, I was trying to focus on what an individual or small groups could do.”

His and others’ contributions make up the new book, which also looks at the environmental challenges facing the country.

He is critical of the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP), European and Scottish Government public funding for rural development, a percentage of which goes to ‘green’ projects.

He told us: “SRDP is terribly bureaucratic. It was set up in a typically top-down governmental online system that made it largely inaccessible to people who didn’t have consultants.

“It’s been good for big forestry companies, but it would have been better if this amount of money could have been spread a bit thinner because that might have got more native woodlands initiatives going over a bigger area.”

But he is hopeful.

He said: “Politicians are now getting the message and trying to improve it, the system is being tweaked to make it simpler and more effective.”

Stressing these opinions are his own rather than those of Borders Forest Trust (BFT) of which he is a founding trustee, Mr Ashmole is critical, too, of government undermining its own advisor SNH whose funding abilities are hampered because it does not administer SRDP

He said: “SNH is not being adequately supported by government. I think morale has been pretty low, partly as a result of SRDP. They can’t even easily give their own grants which used to be quite important – that’s now wrapped up in SRDP – because they don’t have much money. There should be more support for SNH from the government.”

The new book is the work of more than 80 authors from a wide range of backgrounds, including industry, health, conservation, academic departments and government agencies, and is aimed at conservationists, land managers, developers and anyone interested in Scotland’s nature. The 42 chapters cover information on woodland, lowlands, uplands, seas and coast, fresh waters, settlements and built development, people and nature.

Mr Ashmole looks at the history of conservation in southern Scotland, talking of its ‘nadir’ in the 1950s-1970s, changing attitudes and latterly the frustration of the complexities of getting conservation initiatives going and low morale in front line staff in some government bodies.

The Changing Nature of Scotland, costing £27.50, was published on October 6 and is available from TSO Scotland and as a free pdf download from http://www.tsoshop.co.uk/parliament/bookstore.asp?Action=Book&ProductId=9780114973599