Transport Scotland, the National Farmers Union and local authorities have agreed a national code of practice to make better use of farmers’ support this winter.
With preparations already underway for winter 2012, Transport Scotland hosted a workshop with the National Farmers Union Scotland and the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland (SCOTS) to discuss the support which farmers could provide in clearing roads during severe weather.
Farmers already help clear snow in several local authority areas and the code of practice provides guidance for these local authorities, and others who may wish to use farmers’ support this coming winter.
“There are over twenty seven thousand working occupier farms and holdings in Scotland, including in some of the remotest of rural areas" said Transport Minister Keith Brown.
“The farming sector provides an opportunity for councils to utilise farmer’s resources and their position within the local communities to enhance the provision of winter services, improving the resilience of the road network and the quality of life for the people they serve.
“This code of practice encourages a consistent approach to engaging farmers in winter service. It high lights
best practice, as well as important compliance and risk issues that both parties need to be aware of and suggested minimum standards.
“However, we also recognise that significant value is placed on the existing wish of farmers to support their local communities and there is no desire to make the process more onerous than it needs to be.”
The winter of 2009-10 has been acknowledged as the most severe for thirty one years with the winter of 2010-11 repeating extremes of conditions, which included prolonged periods of subzero temperatures, and snow falls greater than 20cm in some areas of Scotland.
The primary focus of the code of practice is on the use of farmers for snow clearing operations. The majority of roads that will be snow ploughed by farmers will be minor rural roads serving remote communities and possibly some minor urban roads, predominately within urban housing estates.
"Farmers and agricultural contractors have a vital role in keeping Scotland's rural communities moving when winter hits" said John Smith, of NFU Scotland's Legal and Technical Committee.
"In the harshest of weather, farmers have proven themselves to be able and willing to play their part in assisting local authorities. Keeping all roads clear in winter not only benefits the food and farming sectors but ensures all communities, not matter how remote or vulnerable, have access to the full range of required services."
Ewan Williams, Chair, SCOTS said: “We believe this Code will help Councils engage with farmers across Scotland to keep our rural roads clear. It is a further positive step in improving Scotlands winter resilience and shows how much can be achieved through partnership working.”
The code of practice is one of a wide range of measures being put in place ahead of Winter 2012/2013. Additional gritters, greater use of state of the art technology and getting information to people ‘on the move’ are just a few of the ways Transport Scotland has strengthened winter treatments, decision making and communication with road users.
However, for the system to work, what road users do to plan for their journey is just as important. Keeping a close eye on weather and travel information, as well as ensuring vehicles are suitably prepared prior to setting off, is crucial. If everyone plans ahead, Scotland will be better prepared for winter.