It’s my birthday today, and for my #birthdaypresent I’d like you to watch this #TED talk from Allan Savory – it might just change the way you think about farming and climate change forever!

OK so it is about desertification, not damp and windy old Europe (as in the picture above), but actually, the principles he talks about, and the possible benefits are extraordinary.

As I watched and listened I couldn’t help but think of unproductive land all over Argyll which might benefit from this idea of mob-grazing. Imagine hill farmers being able to increase their stocking levels by over 100%, and decrease their inputs as well, and get rid of the rashes, and improve the soil structure …

And of course I love the fact that by improving farming techniques we end up bring our carbon footprint right down and thereby saving the planet too. Extraordinary.

And here’s the transcript:

00:12The most massive tsunami perfect storm is bearing down upon us. This perfect storm is mounting a grim reality, increasingly grim reality, and we are facing that reality with the full belief that we can solve our problems with technology, and that’s very understandable. Now, this perfect storm that we are facing is the result of our rising population, rising towards 10 billion people, land that is turning to desert, and, of course, climate change.

01:00Now there’s no question about it at all: we will only solve the problem of replacing fossil fuels with technology. But fossil fuels, carbon — coal and gas — are by no means the only thing that is causing climate change.

01:18Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert, and this happens only when we create too much bare ground. There’s no other cause. And I intend to focus on most of the world’s land that is turning to desert.

01:38But I have for you a very simple message that offers more hope than you can imagine. We have environments where humidity is guaranteed throughout the year. On those, it is almost impossible to create vast areas of bare ground. No matter what you do, nature covers it up so quickly. And we have environments where we have months of humidity followed by months of dryness, and that is where desertification is occurring. Fortunately, with space technology now, we can look at it from space, and when we do, you can see the proportions fairly well. Generally, what you see in green is not desertifying,and what you see in brown is, and these are by far the greatest areas of the Earth. About two thirds, I would guess, of the world is desertifying.

02:34I took this picture in the Tihamah Desert while 25 millimeters — that’s an inch of rain — was falling. Think of it in terms of drums of water, each containing 200 liters. Over 1,000 drums of water fell on every hectare of that land that day. The next day, the land looked like this. Where had that water gone? Some of it ran off as flooding, but most of the water that soaked into the soil simply evaporated out again,exactly as it does in your garden if you leave the soil uncovered. Now, because the fate of water and carbon are tied to soil organic matter, when we damage soils, you give off carbon. Carbon goes back to the atmosphere.

03:26Now you’re told over and over, repeatedly, that desertification is only occurring in arid and semi-arid areas of the world, and that tall grasslands like this one in high rainfall are of no consequence. But if you do not look at grasslands but look down into them, you find that most of the soil in that grassland that you’ve just seen is bare and covered with a crust of algae, leading to increased runoff and evaporation.That is the cancer of desertification that we do not recognize till its terminal form.

04:07Now we know that desertification is caused by livestock, mostly cattle, sheep and goats, overgrazing the plants, leaving the soil bare and giving off methane. Almost everybody knows this, from nobel laureates to golf caddies, or was taught it, as I was. Now, the environments like you see here, dusty environments in Africa where I grew up, and I loved wildlife, and so I grew up hating livestock because of the damage they were doing. And then my university education as an ecologist reinforced my beliefs.

04:51Well, I have news for you. We were once just as certain that the world was flat. We were wrong then, and we are wrong again. And I want to invite you now to come along on my journey of reeducation and discovery.

05:14When I was a young man, a young biologist in Africa, I was involved in setting aside marvelous areas as future national parks. Now no sooner — this was in the 1950s — and no sooner did we remove the hunting, drum-beating people to protect the animals, than the land began to deteriorate, as you see in this park that we formed. Now, no livestock were involved, but suspecting that we had too many elephants now, I did the research and I proved we had too many, and I recommended that we would have to reduce their numbers and bring them down to a level that the land could sustain. Now, that was a terrible decision for me to have to make, and it was political dynamite, frankly. So our government formed a team of experts to evaluate my research. They did. They agreed with me, and over the following years,we shot 40,000 elephants to try to stop the damage. And it got worse, not better. Loving elephants as I do, that was the saddest and greatest blunder of my life, and I will carry that to my grave. One good thing did come out of it. It made me absolutely determined to devote my life to finding solutions.

06:47When I came to the United States, I got a shock, to find national parks like this one desertifying as badly as anything in Africa. And there’d been no livestock on this land for over 70 years. And I found that American scientists had no explanation for this except that it is arid and natural. So I then began lookingat all the research plots I could over the whole of the Western United States where cattle had been removed to prove that it would stop desertification, but I found the opposite, as we see on this research station, where this grassland that was green in 1961, by 2002 had changed to that situation. And the authors of the position paper on climate change from which I obtained these pictures attribute this change to “unknown processes.”

07:52Clearly, we have never understood what is causing desertification, which has destroyed many civilizations and now threatens us globally. We have never understood it. Take one square meter of soiland make it bare like this is down here, and I promise you, you will find it much colder at dawn and much hotter at midday than that same piece of ground if it’s just covered with litter, plant litter. You have changed the microclimate. Now, by the time you are doing that and increasing greatly the percentage of bare ground on more than half the world’s land, you are changing macroclimate. But we have just simply not understood why was it beginning to happen 10,000 years ago? Why has it accelerated lately? We had no understanding of that.

08:52What we had failed to understand was that these seasonal humidity environments of the world, the soil and the vegetation developed with very large numbers of grazing animals, an

Leaving for lunch ...
Leaving for lunch …

d that these grazing animalsdeveloped with ferocious pack-hunting predators. Now, the main defense against pack-hunting predators is to get into herds, and the larger the herd, the safer the individuals. Now, large herds dung and urinate all over their own food, and they have to keep moving, and it was that movement that prevented the overgrazing of plants, while the periodic trampling ensured good cover of the soil, as we see where a herd has passed.

09:47This picture is a typical seasonal grassland. It has just come through four months of rain, and it’s now going into eight months of dry season. And watch the change as it goes into this long dry season. Now, all of that grass you see aboveground has to decay biologically before the next growing season, and if it doesn’t, the grassland and the soil begin to die. Now, if it does not decay biologically, it shifts to oxidation, which is a very slow process, and this smothers and kills grasses, leading to a shift to woody vegetation and bare soil, releasing carbon. To prevent that, we have traditionally used fire. But fire also leaves the soil bare, releasing carbon, and worse than that, burning one hectare of grassland gives off more, and more damaging, pollutants than 6,000 cars. And we are burning in Africa, every single year,more than one billion hectares of grasslands, and almost nobody is talking about it. We justify the burning, as scientists, because it does remove the dead material and it allows the plants to grow.

11:20Now, looking at this grassland of ours that has gone dry, what could we do to keep that healthy? And bear in mind, I’m talking of most of the world’s land now. Okay? We cannot reduce animal numbers to rest it more without causing desertification and climate change. We cannot burn it without causingdesertification and climate change. What are we going to do? There is only one option, I’ll repeat to you, only one option left to climatologists and scientists, and that is to do the unthinkable, and to use livestock, bunched and moving, as a proxy for former herds and predators, and mimic nature. There is no other alternative left to mankind.

12:15So let’s do that. So on this bit of grassland, we’ll do it, but just in the foreground. We’ll impact it very heavily with cattle to mimic nature, and we’ve done so, and look at that. All of that grass is now covering the soil as dung, urine and litter or mulch, as every one of the gardeners amongst you would understand,and that soil is ready to absorb and hold the rain, to store carbon, and to break down methane. And we did that, without using fire to damage the soil, and the plants are free to grow.

12:55When I first realized that we had no option as scientists but to use much-vilified livestock to address climate change and desertification, I was faced with a real dilemma. How were we to do it? We’d had 10,000 years of extremely knowledgeable pastoralists bunching and moving their animals, but they had created the great manmade deserts of the world. Then we’d had 100 years of modern rain science, and that had accelerated desertification, as we first discovered in Africa and then confirmed in the United States, and as you see in this picture of land managed by the federal government. Clearly more was needed than bunching and moving the animals, and humans, over thousands of years, had never been able to deal with nature’s complexity. But we biologists and ecologists had never tackled anything as complex as this. So rather than reinvent the wheel, I began studying other professions to see if anybody had. And I found there were planning techniques that I could take and adapt to our biological need, and from those I developed what we call holistic management and planned grazing, a planning process, and that does address all of nature’s complexity and our social, environmental, economic complexity.

14:27Today, we have young women like this one teaching villages in Africa how to put their animals together into larger herds, plan their grazing to mimic nature, and where we have them hold their animals overnight — we run them in a predator-friendly manner, because we have a lot of lands, and so on — and where they do this and hold them overnight to prepare the crop fields, we are getting very great increases in crop yield as well.

14:54Let’s look at some results. This is land close to land that we manage in Zimbabwe. It has just come through four months of very good rains it got that year, and it’s going into the long dry season. But as you can see, all of that rain, almost of all it, has evaporated from the soil surface. Their river is dry despite the rain just having ended, and we have 150,000 people on almost permanent food aid. Now let’s go to our land nearby on the same day, with the same rainfall, and look at that. Our river is flowing and healthy and clean. It’s fine. The production of grass, shrubs, trees, wildlife, everything is now more productive,and we have virtually no fear of dry years. And we did that by increasing the cattle and goats 400 percent, planning the grazing to mimic nature and integrate them with all the elephants, buffalo, giraffe and other animals that we have. But before we began, our land looked like that. This site was bare and eroding for over 30 years regardless of what rain we got. Okay? Watch the marked tree and see the change as we use livestock to mimic nature. This was another site where it had been bare and eroding,and at the base of the marked small tree, we had lost over 30 centimeters of soil. Okay? And again, watch the change just using livestock to mimic nature. And there are fallen trees in there now, because the better land is now attracting elephants, etc. This land in Mexico was in terrible condition, and I’ve had to mark the hill because the change is so profound.


17:06I began helping a family in the Karoo Desert in the 1970s turn the desert that you see on the right thereback to grassland, and thankfully, now their grandchildren are on the land with hope for the future. And look at the amazing change in this one, where that gully has completely healed using nothing but livestock mimicking nature, and once more, we have the third generation of that family on that land with their flag still flying.

17:39The vast grasslands of Patagonia are turning to desert as you see here. The man in the middle is an Argentinian researcher, and he has documented the steady decline of that land over the years as they kept reducing sheep numbers. They put 25,000 sheep in one flock, really mimicking nature now with planned grazing, and they have documented a 50-percent increase in the production of the land in the first year.

18:10We now have in the violent Horn of Africa pastoralists planning their grazing to mimic nature and openly saying it is the only hope they have of saving their families and saving their culture. Ninety-five percent of that land can only feed people from animals.

18:29I remind you that I am talking about most of the world’s land here that controls our fate, including the most violent region of the world, where only animals can feed people from about 95 percent of the land.What we are doing globally is causing climate change as much as, I believe, fossil fuels, and maybe more than fossil fuels. But worse than that, it is causing hunger, poverty, violence, social breakdown and war,and as I am talking to you, millions of men, women and children are suffering and dying. And if this continues, we are unlikely to be able to stop the climate changing, even after we have eliminated the use of fossil fuels.

19:23I believe I’ve shown you how we can work with nature at very low cost to reverse all this. We are already doing so on about 15 million hectares on five continents, and people who understand far more about carbon than I do calculate that, for illustrative purposes, if we do what I am showing you here, we can take enough carbon out of the atmosphere and safely store it in the grassland soils for thousands of years, and if we just do that on about half the world’s grasslands that I’ve shown you, we can take us back to pre-industrial levels, while feeding people. I can think of almost nothing that offers more hope for our planet, for your children, and their children, and all of humanity.

20:23Thank you.

20:27(Applause) Thank you. (Applause)

20:48Thank you, Chris.

20:50Chris Anderson: Thank you. I have, and I’m sure everyone here has, A) a hundred questions, B) wants to hug you. I’m just going to ask you one quick question. When you first start this and you bring in a flock of animals, it’s desert. What do they eat? How does that part work? How do you start?

21:09Allan Savory: Well, we have done this for a long time, and the only time we have ever had to provide any feed is during mine reclamation, where it’s 100 percent bare. But many years ago, we took the worst land in Zimbabwe, where I offered a £5 note in a hundred-mile drive if somebody could find one grass in a hundred-mile drive, and on that, we trebled the stocking rate, the number of animals, in the first year with no feeding, just by the movement, mimicking nature, and using a sigmoid curve, that principle. It’s a little bit technical to explain here, but just that.

21:48CA: Well, I would love to — I mean, this such an interesting and important idea. The best people on our blog are going to come and talk to you and try and — I want to get more on this that we could share along with the talk.AS: Wonderful.

21:59CA: That is an astonishing talk, truly an astonishing talk, and I think you heard that we all are cheering you on your way. Thank you so much.AS: Well, thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Chris.


Schroomage: Plugs of Oyster, Lions Mane and Shiitake installed …

… ready for harvest next year, we think.

Actually, this is a test run, and one which may not bear any [funghi] fruit as we are using a substrate (the lime or linden) felled by an errant gust of wind in August 2013. Its been on my mind to try this for a while because, frankly, the log is no use to anyone given that someone, at sometime, a long time ago had banged a bunch of hand cut 6-8″ nails into the tree. These nails were so embedded in the log that we only knew they were there when the stripped off the tungsten tips of our mill blade on the Lucas Mill.

We thought there’d be only one or two, but it turned out there were a whole heap of them around a foot under the surface. A real shame because the wood would’ve been fantastic for a variety of uses.

So we are left with a big log, one which we thought to innoculate with a bunch of mushroom types to see which would take. Luckily on the surface we have a 4″x4″ half milled length which is perfect for innoculation (see here for the types and thicknesses of wood appropriate – lime being conspicuously absent). However, while this, and the final log from the monkey puzzle, will be further tested on, I found in my research that Alder (which grows like topsy here – ‘topsy’ being a technical term you understand) is a particularly flexible wood for the growing of mushrooms, so one of my projects for the next few months (to provide me with distraction from the all-consuming deskwork that is planning for the restoration of the castle) is to set up some shroom stands in the grounds and innoculate them with further types, including Evoki, Pearl Oyster, Lion’s Mane, Chicken, Shiitake. As you may have gathered, I love mushrooms, and given the enjoyment we have had from the Chanterelle we sometimes find in the woods behind us, I felt this might be a worthwhile endeavour!

Path at Stronafian Forest: First stage in the Community Woodland

This is yesterday in Stronafian Forest at the southern end. Our Project Officer Eamon King and his volunteers from Dunoon Help and Glendaruel have been working for a while now on our ongoing access project. The path takes walkers from the main forestry road onto a uneven, and very varied bluff which extends some 400 yards south and provides a lovely view of Loch Riddon, Bute and Tighnabruaich.

The team are now working on the access above the Clachan which will create paths in and around the lovely deciduous woodlands which contain some very interesting neolithic remains – all in time for the upcoming CWA conference.

Extraordinary Ecosystem change: Can Pine Martens control Grey Squirrels to the benefit of the Reds?

Another one of those thought-provoking ecosystem observations, this time from Ireland, which if taken up could see the grey tree rats exiled from these islands altogether. I kid you not!

Something perhaps to consider and debate with the community forest at Stronafian …

Should it be Grey or Gray – given the source of these pests? I am not sure …

Land Reform Review Group publishes its report recommending significant empowerment to communities in Scotland

So this is not for everyone, but for those of us who have been engaged in Community Development work over the years, this report is highly significant. Not only does it recommend a right to buy for communities, but the ability for Community Councils to recommend compulsory purchase orders (see below). There’re also recommendations on State Aids and de minimis which are very welcome. The Community Land Scotland conference is well-timed to discuss and debate the recommendations, and I am looking forward to it!

Here’s the detail on Right to Buy

At present, local communities have the option of one statutory land right. This is the right of local communities acting through an ‘appropriate community body’ to exercise a right of pre-emption over land under Part 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

The Land Reform Review Group considers that local communities should have other statutory options to fit different circumstances and issues. The Group recommends in this Report that local communities should have four additional land rights. These are described in the text of the Report and summarised below.

With each right, the criteria for the appropriate local community body remain the same and based on those in Part 2 of the 2003 Act. The thresholds of requirements to be met for each right would progressively increase from numbers 1 to 5, with the increasingly significant nature of the rights involved.

1. Right to Register an Interest over Land
Process that enables an appropriate local community body in defined circumstances to register an interest over land where that is judged to be in the public interest, and then to be notified of the sale and any change of ownership of the land.

2. Right of Pre-emption to Buy Land
Process that enables an appropriate local community body in defined circumstances to register a right of pre-emption over land and to exercise that right if the land is to be sold, where that is judged by Scottish Ministers to be in the public interest.

3. Right to Request to Buy Public Land
Process that enables an appropriate local community body in defined circumstances to buy public land, whether or not it is for sale, where that is judged to be in the public interest by the public body responsible for the land or by Scottish Ministers.

4. Right to Buy Land
Process that enables an appropriate local community body in defined circumstances to buy land which is not for sale, where that is judged by Scottish Ministers to be in the public interest.

5. Right to Request a Compulsory Purchase Order over Land
Process that enables an appropriate local community body in defined circumstances to request Scottish Ministers to exercise a CPO over land for re-sale to the community body, where that is judged by Ministers to be in the public interest.

The lo-res report is available on Scottish Government website here and the high resolution version here.

The picture shows communities which own land in our area, including Colintraive and Glendaruel’s own Stronafian Forest.

#CommunityWoodlands: Great CWA board meeting in Perth discussing funding, de minimis & the conference

Coming up with strategies to deal with perennial issues like core funding, delivering more benefits to members and ensuring a really engaging and interesting annual conference in late August was a great deal more fun than it sounds. Lively discussions on State Aid, de minimis and Land Reform. A great selection of Borders Biscuits. Couldn’t have been a more convivial meeting in Perth!

The photo was taken on Skye during a field trip to Sleat Forest with Chris Marsh at the 2013 CWA conference – great day.

James Hilder => #ConflictResolution Guru from An Roth

Yesterday myself and Nikki Woolf (CGDT Greener ColGlen admin and communications officer as well as KCFC Forest Operations Administrator) attended James Hilder’s inspirational and really-very-useful seminar on conflict resolution held by the Community Woodlands Association in Ardfern.

Some real nuggets came up and some hugely useful processes, all of which I hope we can implement at CGDT. Preparation was the one which came up again and again – the best way to deal with destructive conflict is to prepare yourself and your organisation so that it doesn’t happen. Communicate well, and much of the angst of conflict is obviated – and if there is conflict, it is a useful, thought-provoking, solutions-oriented, issue-based process.

Thanks James, great day!