Accreditation grows steadily as the scheme looks forward to the New Year.
As 2016 draws to a close, the number of properties accredited under the Wildlife Estates Scotland scheme is approaching 50. We have several farms and estates currently under assessment at present and therefore expect to add more to the total in the early part of 2017. More still are looking to take on accreditation, and we look forward to encouraging further applications over the course of the next year.
The most important feature is ensuring that our accredited members continue to deliver sound land management practice. The number and status of species, the condition of habitats and other measures we can use need to be considered over time to understand what effect accreditation has in encouraging best practice. There are however a number of signs that we are heading in the right direction.
First of all, a common message coming back to us from those who achieve accreditation is that the whole process, from application through to the provision of supporting information and management plans, prompts landowners and managers to review their all-round land management activities and consider how these meet their own, and public interest objectives. They regularly comment on the value of this appraisal, and it’s heartening too that both private and public interest aims are increasingly set out in management plans.
More tangible evidence is provided by an increase in the number of applicants embarking on peatland management programmes. This is of particular significance as it indicates growing awareness of climate change risks, collaborative management and willingness to invest for the future. The partnerships that have brought these initiatives to life provide a clear indication of how Scotland can tackle national challenges at the same time as producing local benefits for the environment and rural economy.
During 2016, we undertook walk & talk events in the Lammermuirs and Aberdeenshire, as well as Land-rover tours during the Cairngorm Nature Festival week. These helped us engage with both WES members interested in accreditation, and members of the public keen to understand what happens on accredited properties. We will look to run similar events in 2017, as they are vital in raising awareness about game, wildlife and habitat management issues that we can address through accreditation.
For WES, progress in 2017 will be dependent on being able to generate sufficient income and funding to support developments. To that end, WES may look to restructure as a Community Interest Company so that it can seek financial support from a wide range of stakeholders and trusts reassured by a public interest remit. This is a bold step that will require considerable development alongside the management of existing accreditation. It is however felt necessary if WES is to continue playing an important role in encouraging good practice land management. We will identify progress in this respect over the course of the next year. In the meantime, we are extremely grateful to members and supporters for their participation and look forward to working with everyone in the coming year.
Wildlife Estates and Scottish Land & Estates combined to run Land Rover tours on WES accredited properties during the Cairngorm Nature Festival in 2016.