The Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) in East Lothian: 1983-2000

Michael Williams

Lothians FWAG was a branch of FWAG Scotland, part of FWAG UK, a national charity. There were 65 regional and county branches throughout the UK, 16 of which were in Scotland. Lothians FWAG was one of the 15 groups in Scotland that employed a full-time farm conservation adviser.

FWAG was formed in the 1980s by a group of concerned farmers who wanted to help the farming industry reduce the damage intensive agriculture was inflicting on the countryside. Lothians FWAG was formed in 1983 through the formation of a committee made up of farmers and representatives of statutory and voluntary organisations associated with agriculture, forestry, wildlife and conservation interests in the region. The aim was to promote wildlife conservation on farms and to provide farmers with practical, confidential advice as requested. The absence of a full-time adviser initially restricted the amount and quality of the advice given to farmers and the development of Lothians FWAG. The partnerships that were established however, provided a strong foundation for the future.

In June 1990 a full-time farm conservation adviser (Jeremy Roberts) was appointed. He was tasked with developing the level and quality of service given to farmers, to promote FWAG and its aims within the agricultural community and to promote to the public the good work carried out by farmers in enhancing the natural quality of the countryside. The adviser continued to be supported by a farmer-led committee who provided vital local contacts, a source of expertise and a detailed understanding of local issues. The adviser was supported and managed by a small headquarters in Ingliston.

There were approximately 400 farm units in East Lothian. The effect of a farm conservation adviser was startling; the awareness and enthusiasm of farmers was raised as to the scope of the wildlife and habitats around them, and practical work was put in train to enhance the potential for wildlife to flourish around intensively farmed land. The use of grants schemes to pump prime conservation projects including woodlands, hedges, ponds and field boundaries was also significant. An important aspect was the change in attitude of many farmers to their surroundings and a change in husbandry to reflect the need to fit farming into the countryside.

The role of the farm conservation adviser developed over the decade to 2000. He was involved with the East Lothian Biodiversity Action Plan, which sought to identify key species and habitats and to suggest ways in which they can be protected and enhanced. Farmers were key players in this process and needed suitable information. The adviser also had a role to play in encouraging farmers to plan access routes so the public could enjoy responsible access to the countryside and appreciate the farmed environment.

In its 17 years, the local FWAG was perhaps a very small organisation, but it had a large influence on the landscape of East Lothian.