Saturday, June 23, 2007

Aberdeenshire and Climate Change

I live in Ballater, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. I don't write enough about how climate change is effecting this area, and how it is likely to in the future.

I just came across a facinating podcast from the University of Leeds. In this audio program three farmers, each with over 50 years of experiance talk about there experiance of the chaning climate.

Three Scottish farmers lectured students at the University of Leeds this week about how they are already coping with the effects of climate change. But they didn't have to leave the comfort of their own homes because they were featured in a podcast.

Audio recordings of interviews with the farmers were made into a 20 minute documentary. The podcast then automatically downloads the recording to students’ computers and MP3 players.

Three Aberdeenshire farmers starred in the podcast. Eric Much is a livestock farmer, Alfie Gray used to keep livestock before he retired and now keeps bees, and Jimmy Rae was brought up on an arable farm and is now a local window cleaner, renting out his own arable land. They each had witnessed significant changes in the climate over the 50 years they had been working on the land.

Mark Reed, Lecturer at the University of Leeds said, " This is an invaluable opportunity for my students to learn first hand how our climate is already changing, and how people might be able to cope with these changes. I couldn’t get three farmers to travel to Leeds and even if I could, I’m sure they’d rather not tell their stories to a lecture theatre of 170 students. But podcasting technology enables these farmers to impart the knowledge without having to travel."

"Because of its location, often on the edge of the boundary where we see snow in this country, with temperatures oscillating around zero degrees Celsius on many winter days, the location of Aberdeenshire is unique. It can provide us with a fascinating window onto the future effects that climate change may have on temperate agriculture. In this area, just a small change in average winter temperatures can have a huge effect on agriculture, because it makes the difference between whether there is frost and snow or not."

Farmers explained to students how winter snow was commonly an average of 6 ft deep in the past, drifting up to 20 ft. One farmer even described having to climb out of his first floor window to dig a tunnel to his front door. By contrast, nowadays snow is rarely deep and when it does fall does not lie for long. The experience of these farmers is consistent with climate models that suggest Scottish winters will become warmer and wetter, with increased likelihood of winter flooding and summer drought. But the farmers were upbeat about how farmers would respond.

Jimmy Rae said, " Farmers have got to change. There’s no way out: they’ve got to keep up with the changing times. It was a thought going into bigger machinery, but the scarcity of labour forced them into it. The same thing is going to happen with changing crops. Its not going to work keeping going the way we are – its not going to be profitable. We’ve got to change."

Alfie Gray agreed: " I think I’m an optimist. Farmers have changed over the years and they’ll keep changing. They’ll change to suit themselves - they’ll make it alright."
The farmers seem to be quite pleased with climate change, infact if you look at maps the cool temperate areas are amongst those most positvely impacted by climate change in terms of agricultural productivity. The impact on local ecosystems is a quite different story.


Climate Change Action

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