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«TABLE OF CONTENTS 1. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS 2. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY : 2.1. Project Objectives 2.2. Key deliverables and outputs 2.3. Summary of results ...»

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2.1. Project Objectives

2.2. Key deliverables and outputs

2.3. Summary of results by action codes


3.1. Description of background, problem and objectives

3.2. Expected longer term results.


4.1. Description of project management

4.2. Evaluation of the management system


5.1. Technical Progress per Task

5.2. Dissemination actions

5.3. Evaluation of Project Implemention

5.4. Analysis of long-term benefits


6.1. Summary of costs incurred

6.2. Accounting system

6.3. Partnership arrangements (if relevant)

6.4. Auditor's report/declaration

6.5. Summary of costs per action


7.1. List of paper annexes attached to this report

7.2. CD Annexes

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CnES = Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Local Council Authority) MA = Management Agreement MLURI = Macaulay Land Use Research Institute now the James Hutton Institute MoA = Memorandum of Agreement ML = Machair LIFE+ project LMO = Land Management Option LANTRA = LANTRA tractor award certificate regulated by Lantra organisation (not an acronym) RSPB = The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds SAC = Special Area of Conservation ScAC = Scottish Agricultural College SCF = Scottish Crofting Federation SGRPID = Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate SMP = Society Major Project SNH = Scottish Natural Heritage SPA = Special Protection Area SRDP = Scottish Rural Development Programme

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Included with this report is the Machair LIFE+ DVD, which we believe gives a good summary of the project.

In addition, we have included the following note written by George Campbell, the RSPB’s Regional Director for North Scotland. This note was published in the final project newsletter, and shows how the project was perceived by Mr Campbell and the other staff involved.

Machair LIFE+, a few reflections When we attended a few public meetings in the Uists in the winter of 2009, the weather outside was pretty stormy. On occasion the atmosphere inside was pretty stormy too. We were left in no doubt that the crofting population valued the machair and were deeply concerned about its future. It was also made clear to us that there were significant challenges that would need to be addressed if crofting was to survive and flourish on the machair.

We were told that goose damage was making cropping unviable, we heard that baler string and canvasses were in short supply. Crofters told us that it was difficult to access the SRDP and that young people were not being given enough encouragement to get involved in crofting. We were informed that while some contractor services were readily available, others were not.

We listened to these concerns and while there are inevitable constraints with any funding programme, I believe we made significant progress either in addressing them, or in helping to show how they could be addressed in the future. Rory MacGillivray and his team showed that a well organised and motivated team could minimise crop damage from geese. The work Angus and then Donald did in partnership with townships reaffirmed the value of seaweed as a fertiliser. We helped get some old binders going again and discovered the frailties of the modern equivalent. Seed drying and shallow ploughing proved popular, as did rotovating and our SRDP workshops. The schoolchildren were enthusiastic about our machair art courses and produced fantastic art work that hung in a gallery and scarecrows that stood out in the fields.

We had great help and support from SNH, The Comhairle, The Scottish Crofting Federation, the schools, the estates, SGRIPD and most of all the crofting community of Uist. I think it went better than we could have hoped or imagined, and great credit for that must go to the project staff. My only regret is that it is all over so soon. We achieved a lot, but if there is a lesson, it is that managing a resource as valuable and fragile as the machair involves a lot of people, needs a lot of support and must be subject to a long-term approach.

Many thanks for your advice, support and encouragement, on behalf of the team and myself, it was much appreciated.

2.1. Project objectives The main objective of this project was to secure and improve the conservation status of 70% of the world’s machair habitat and its associated species by implementing and demonstrating sustainable management methods that optimise conservation interest and are compatible with local agricultural practices.


2.2. Key deliverables and outputs The area of late-harvested crops was expanded.

• Best-practice arable crop production techniques were undertaken and demonstrated to • the crofting community.

The supply of local arable seed was secured.

• Best-practice in-bye management was undertaken as part of a whole-crofting-unit • machair biodiversity package.

2.3. Summary of results by action codes The following is a summary of actions taken to ensure the success of this machair conservation scheme implemented during the project.

An up-to-date database of machair land management, species and habitat information was compiled, made available and disseminated to the appropriate bodies (A1). Management agreements were negotiated (A2), and site assessments were conducted (A3), with engagement by crofters exceeding expectations despite the problems outlined in the detailed action accounts below.

In order to demonstrate best-practice conservation and agricultural management of the machair and reach a large number of crofters who did not have access to suitable machinery, the project bought machinery for use on Uist and a tractor for Islay (A4). This machinery will continue to be used for conservation after the project, following successful handovers.

Contracts were tendered and awarded successfully following both LIFE+ and RSPB procurement rules (A5). Two agricultural sheds for storage of machinery and feed were built (A6); this action was not without its problems but both sheds now continue to be beneficially used.

A dedicated data repository was set up for the purpose of storing and analysing project survey data (A7).

Habitat condition was improved through positive agricultural practices (C1), and arable cropping and silage production were increased (C2). Goose management was very successfully undertaken on the Uists, Barra, Coll and Tiree (C3). The project objective to expand the knowledge and skill base of the local crofting community and policy makers was achieved (C4).

One of the project targets was to support the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) to deliver better management of designated sites (C5). The project team worked with RSPB colleagues to ensure that findings from their monitoring work were fed into the review process for SRDP. Additionally, good progress was made in developing a grassland model for Tiree (C6).

A suite of monitoring work on managed and unmanaged plots to measure the effect of project actions was a key project objective (E2). This work covered 62 plots with invertebrate and soil data being collected. Monitoring of the key project species (namely corncrake, chough, and dunlin and other waders) was carried out (E3). A report evaluating costs and socio-economic influence (E4) was compiled and will be disseminated to all relevant bodies.

The project also included an important set of D actions to raise awareness within the local community. Specific outputs included the project website (D1), notice boards (D5), newsletters and leaflets (D6), and a project film (D7). A large part of the project’s community work involved visits to and from local interest groups including schools (D2). In addition to 4 this, interaction with the farming and crofting communities was vital to the success of the project. This involved demonstration events (D3) as well as the aforementioned newsletters.

The project communicated with a wide variety of other organisations (E5) and concluded with a three-day conference attended by over 80 delegates (D9).

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3.1. Description of background, problem and objectives Overall and specific objectives This report relates to the LIFE+ project Conserving Machair Habitats and Species in a Suite of Scottish Natura Sites. This was a four-year project running from January 2010 to March 2014, which aimed to demonstrate that traditional crofting practices have a sustainable future. It was a LIFE+ Nature (best practice and demonstration) project. The success of the project has helped to secure the immensely important conservation value of the unique machair habitat, 18% of which lies within the project area and a further 52% of which lies within other parts of western Scotland and was targeted through the dissemination elements of the project. The project was managed by the RSPB in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) and the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF).

Changes in local agricultural practices have occurred that threaten the condition of machair and the conservation status of key flora and fauna populations. Changes include the early harvesting of arable and grass crops; a decline in traditional crofting practices, such as the stacking of cereal crops; an increase in the use of inorganic fertilizers; and the under-sowing of crops with grass. These changes reduce the quality of the machair as a habitat for birds, invertebrates and flora species. Through working closely with crofting communities, agencies and partners within the designated Natura 2000 sites, the project team has endeavoured to secure and improve the conservation status of Scotland’s machair. In a changing socioeconomic context, new ways need to be found to harmonise machair conservation with agricultural realities while supporting traditional practices.

The main project objectives were as follows.

Expand the area of late-harvested crops on arable machair.

• Effect a reduction in the area of under-sown crop.

• Undertake best-practice arable crop production techniques and demonstrate these to • the crofting community.

Identify constraints to existing management and increase capacity to undertake • beneficial management.

Expand the skill and knowledge base and support Rural Development Programmes • to deliver better management to crofting communities.

Establish best-practice in-bye management as part of a whole-crofting-unit machair • biodiversity package.

Secure the supply of local arable seed.

Sites involved

Machair habitat is extremely rare, occurring over a total global area of approximately 19,000 ha. Seventy percent of this is in western Scotland, as noted above, and the remainder is in western Ireland. As such, machair is now internationally recognised as being of great conservation importance, and is protected within a suite of Natura 2000 sites. The machair within these designated sites was the target area for the project. The project mostly covered the Uists, as this is where the majority of machair occurs. However, areas of Barra, Coll and Tiree, Oronsay, Colonsay, Islay and Lewis were also included.

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Habitat types and/or species targeted The project targeted approximately 3,500 ha of machair habitat. This represents 18% of the global total of this habitat and 26% of the UK total. Approximately 2,780 ha (80%) of the machair habitat within the project area lies within an SAC.

Machair habitat occurs in the sub areas as follows.

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A map of the sub-areas targeted by the project is provided on the next page.

7 8 The main target species for the project were corncrake Crex crex, ringed plover Charadrius hiaticula, dunlin Calidris alpina schinzii and chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. Approximately 50% of the GB corncrake population and 10% of the GB breeding chough population is currently found in the project area.

The extensive cattle-based agricultural systems in the project area generate and sustain much of the conservation interest and are readily identifiable as High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems. The maintenance of these systems is essential to preserve both the designated interest and the wider biodiversity recognised in national and local conservation initiatives such as the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and Local Biodiversity Action Plans. This wider biodiversity includes invertebrate communities, especially bumblebees and moths, and seed-eating passerines such as corn bunting Emberiza calandra and twite Carduelis flavirostris, both of which are nationally declining.

Within the project area, machair habitats varied in their conservation status at the start of the project. For example, the cultivated machairs within the SACs in the North Uist Machair and South Uist Machair sub-areas were classified as being in unfavourable declining condition.

However, machair features designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) under UK legislation but not as SACs in the North Uist Machair sub-area were classified as favourable maintained. The small area of machair in the Oronsay and south Colonsay subarea was in unfavourable no change condition.

Main conservation issues targeted

The main issues and threats targeted were as follows.

Earlier harvesting of arable crops on machair, resulting in the wild flower or ‘arable • weed’ species growing within the crop being unable to set seed. Early cutting of arable crops also removes a valuable source of cover for corncrakes.

Under-sowing of arable crops on machair with grasses, resulting in fallow weed • species being out-competed and subsequent arable weed communities being much less diverse and abundant. Fallow areas are used as nesting habitat by ringed plover and dunlin and when under-sown become sub-optimal for these species.

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