Farmer loses five-year environmental battle

A LEADING Berwickshire farmer has lost a five-year environmental battle to improve a rough grassland field on his land because of the effect it will have on the bird population.

Tom Macfarlane had appealed against the decision to refuse him permission to drain, cultivate and re-seed the 25 hectare Raecleugh Bog at Flass Farm near Westruther.

He had wanted to provide more improved grazing land at his farm which has 2,000 ewes and 3,000 cattle. The decision had been taken by the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate after concerns were raised by Scottish Natural Heritage when the plan was first raised in 2007.

They identified an area of rush pasture within the field which in the interests of nature conservation they felt should be left unimproved.

An environment statement in July 2009 identified 74 plant species, 14 breeding bird species including 10 pairs of Lapwing and a similar number of Skylark.

The directorate carried out consultations and the responses raised a number of concerns particularly about the effect on the Lapwing population.

As a result the directorate wrote to J & T F Macfarlane in November 2009 refusing consent and an appeal was lodged in February 2010.

A hearing and site visit by Michael Cunliffe, a reporter appointed by Scottish Ministers, took place in December 2011.

In his findings he highlighted how Raecleuch Bog was a good breeding site and supports a significant Lapwing population.

Mr Cunliffe said: “A research study near West Linton showed that converting unimproved grassland to improved is likely to lead to a large reduction in the Lapwing population.

“If that result were repeated at Raecleugh Bog, the eight to 10 pairs would be reduced to two. I therefore find that the proposed agricultural improvements would be likely to have a serious adverse effect on Lapwing, a species of UK national conservation concern for which Raecleugh Bog is an important site.”

He added: “I conclude that the proposals would have a significantly adverse effect on nature conservation, and particularly on Lapwing, and that the agricultural and broader long-term environmental benefits do not outweigh this. The appeal therefore fails, and consent for draining and reseeding the area is refused.”