Ken Thomson

This is one of two two-year regional exercises (the other being in the Borders) being carried out for the national Land Use Strategy (LUS) by Aberdeenshire Council with the James Hutton (previously the Macaulay) Institute (JHI). The Strategy aims to promote the delivery of multiple benefits from the land (such as food, timber, energy, landscapes, recreation and flood protection) based on the principles of the Ecosystem Approach. The pilots are to:

Their results in spring 2015 will feed into a Scottish Government review of the LUS, in time for possible legislation in 2016 (see Scottish government website).

The pilot has involved the construction at the JHI of a modelling tool which maps the implications of various drivers (e.g. climate change, afforestation, food markets) for ecosystem services (e.g. biodiversity, water quality, soil erosion, carbon sequestration). The pilot also involved two focus areas, around Huntly and in Upper Deeside. For the latter, three meetings with various public and private partners (mainly land managers and agency staff, no mountaineers or other recreationalists) have been held in Ballater. In the first (in June 2013), the benefits of land uses were identified, and in the second, influences on land use change were discussed.

In the third (and last) meeting, in November 2014, three scenarios or possible futures for the Ballater area were discussed: (i) 'Go with the Flow' following current trajectories; 'Nature@Work' with ecosystem services protected; and 'World Markets' with much more exposure to market forces. The participants scored these scenarios on 21 economic, environmental and social criteria (e.g. availability of labour and skills; ecosystem resilience; local cost of living). Overall, Nature@Work received the highest average score. Land use changes would be small under all scenarios (only 1 in 4 land managers might change under the World Markets, with more arable and improved grassland for food production at the expense of semi-natural and rough grazing; woodland would neither contract nor expand by much in any scenario. All three scenarios suggested that emissions of carbon, nutrients and sediment will increase - by the least for Nature@Work, but considerably for carbon under World Markets.

A round-up meeting was held at Banchory on 26 February, with inputs from Council staff, JHI researchers, JHI, NFUS and SLE.

Note: The JHI, SNH and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) are beginning a three-year study to trial different methods of assessing mountain hare populations in upland areas of Scotland. According to the JHI website, "The new project will trial different methods to identify the most suitable way of estimating hare numbers, with the objective of making reliable estimates of population abundance or density. One of the aims of the study is to develop a method which doesn't rely solely on scientists but uses methods that could be collected by people working in the uplands."

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