A key role of the new demonstration farm in Scotland will be research. It provides the GWCT with three things:
The long-term opportunity to study the ecology of key species that live on the hill edge.
A place to demonstrate the impacts, both positive and negative, of the management strategies adopted on the farm as it increases its profitability.
The chance to study the conservation role of game management techniques in these grazing-dominated habitats.
In preparation for this work we need a ‘baseline’. It is important that we understand the ecology of the farm now before we change the management and also identify the ‘natural capital’ (the range of environmental and biological assets that is present).
So 2015 and 2016 were designated as baseline years during which we are surveying the farm intensively. A variety of habitats and wildlife are being focused on, providing data that will inform decisions on site management. We have documented all manner of life, from tiger moths and toads, to lizards and lapwing. Already it seems apparent that Auchnerran is rich in breeding waders, with woodcock particularly noteworthy. As well as the farmed fields, semi-natural habitats range from heather moor, through birch woods, to lowland bog.
Research and education sit closely together, as we have already hosted students from universities across the UK to study at Auchnerran: in 2015 we had four students from British universities as well as enquiries from two in Europe. We have also had the support of many skilled volunteers, both local and from further afield, at various points in the year. We hope to build on this aspect of the project in 2016.
The habitats, wildlife and farming system are already suggesting some key project themes. It is likely that there will be a strong element investigating ways of better managing farmed grassland for both sheep and the wildlife that share it: this is an area desperately in need of some new thinking to provide farmers with more options in the future. Furthermore, we will be focusing on our impressive wader populations to ensure we maintain them whatever else we decide to do, looking at how both farming and gamekeeping have an important role in wader ecology.
Auchnerran is intended to become a significant research facility. Keep an eye on these pages to see how we get on as we develop our future research program.