Why this theme?

South West Wales is predominantly rural, with 56% of the land being made up of ‘enclosed farmland’ and a further 17% woodland. The sectors managing this land – agriculture, forestry and fisheries – support livelihoods and communities and importantly also sustain the natural resources which we rely on. The way in which we manage this land has an effect on our local countryside and beyond and this theme looks at how can make these practices more sustainably. In South West Wales we need our rural sector to thrive, supporting a high-quality environment, but also providing us with high quality goods and services.

The top ‘national challenges and opportunities’ from the Natural Resources Policy are addressed by this theme cover:

  • How we maintain productive capacity of our land with a priority being improving soil quality and biosecurity

  • Improving the quality and quantity of our water

  • Increasing carbon stores in soils and biomass (plant or animal material) and ensuring areas are protected to do so

  • Reversing the decline in biodiversity

  • Reducing the risk of flooding

  • Supporting secure and stable employment

Diversity of agriculture and sustainable production

Forestry and agriculture provide us with many benefits including the food we eat, and when well-managed, they secure these benefits for current and future generations. 

The way farmers manage land can be hugely beneficial for biodiversity. They can create new habitats for species, but some particularly intensive farming activities can also harm biodiversity. Farmers have a critical role to play in enhancing and maintaining biodiversity as well as supplying the food we eat. There is good evidence that reductions in farmland bird populations have been helped by conservation actions, and many environmentally friendly agriculture schemes have been beneficial for wildlife.

Two cows near Port TalbotImage by Daron Herbert

Hedges and edges

In South West Wales we have large areas of agricultural land that feature hedgerows and field edges and are located close to the margins of rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands (we call these riparian zones). These areas are important for biodiversity as well as being culturally significant, e.g. hedgerows in Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If we take Wales as a whole, we have an estimated 106,000 km of hedgerows however, 78% of these hedgerows lie in an unfavourable condition. We have achieved some progress with 5,800 km already restored under sustainable land management schemes. But inappropriate management, destruction and the increase of diseases such as ash die-back continue to threaten hedgerows and the benefits they provide.

We have many areas of land in South West Wales that are described as riparian zones. These areas filter pollutants such as nutrients and sediment, and bankside vegetation helps to reduce erosion. Bankside vegetation also provides shade, which works to lower water temperatures. By bringing nature back to urban streams and rivers and protecting rural streams from trampling from livestock, we can help improve water quality and increase biodiversity.

Upland and common management

Common land is generally defined as land over which ‘another party’ has certain rights, such as cattle grazing. Most commons are based on ancient rights that pre-date the established law and are based on long-held traditions. In excess of 65% of Wales’ common land is currently under ‘active management’. Besides playing a vital role in agriculture, common land is valued for its contribution to our natural and cultural heritage. Designated common land covers a significant area of land in South West Wales with 32.5% of Swansea and parts of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire having multiple smaller commons less that a hectare in size. It is important to note that where commons are being appropriately managed by grazing associations, we learn from these areas and support other users by sharing this good practice.

Upland view with tree in foreground

Pollution of the environment

Our water quality is vitally important to the biodiversity and economy of this area and water pollution from agricultural sources has become an increasing high-profile issue. It has been recognised that Wales could do more to control agricultural pollution to keep it away from our water courses and, eventually, the sea.

The most common water pollution incidents come from the dairy industry. This is an area of growth and farmers are intensifying production and increasing herd sizes to remain viable. Growth in the sector hasn’t been matched by an equivalent investment in water and manure management infrastructure. Consequently, we have seen increasing numbers of slurry incidents. It is important to note, though, these incidents relate to a relatively small section of the sector and the majority is operating responsibly.

Ammonia, a product in animal manure, remains an issue as it disrupts the natural balance of our land (through air pollution) and watercourses. Manure management contributes a significant proportion of the ammonia released to the air from agriculture (75% in 2017 from cattle manure, manure application to soil and ‘other’). Cattle farming (dairy and non-dairy) is the dominant agricultural contributor.

Management of the public-sector estate

All public bodies in Wales have a duty to maintain and enhance biodiversity through the delivery of their functions. This includes Natural Resources Wales (NRW), local authorities, Ministry of Defence and our public services board partners. There is therefore a significant opportunity for the public sector to play an important role in supporting nature through the management of its own estate. For NRW this means managing the Welsh Government Woodland Estate (which makes up 5.4% of the land in South West Wales) sustainably and as an exemplar of Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) - we recognise that we have work to do here and are committed to doing so.

Tree canopy in South West Wales

What would success look like?

A key part of the development of this Area Statement has been our engagement with stakeholders and we say more about this in the next section.

Previously, we have described the main characteristics and challenges of rural land management. Here we have set out ‘what success looks like’ as a series of you told us statements reflecting the general consensus from our engagement sessions. These sessions generated a wealth of information ideas and the following represents just a summary of the opportunities ahead of us (where there was general agreement among multiple stakeholders). If you feel that we have missed something, please don’t worry, we want to carry on the conversations we have started. Please see the section at the end of this theme which details how you can remain part of this process.

You told us that we need to ensure land managers are provided with the right support to create a viable and prosperous rural economy. This includes:

  • A well designed flexible sustainable land management payment scheme which is focussed on actual outcomes, backed up with appropriate face to face support and advisory services

  • Building a high level of trust between the industry and government/the regulator to deliver an effective communications programme – for example, through a variety forums such as the Pembrokeshire Sustainable Agriculture Network

  • Greater support is needed for a farm succession programme to help deliver tomorrow’s generation of farmers, through high quality training and apprenticeships

You told us that people should be better connected to their landscape and be aware of where our food comes from and how it is produced. For example:

  • Increased community involvement in land management can provide multiple benefits and help the sector to diversify, For example, Coed Ty Llwyd. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) can improve our well-being and directly connect people to locally grown food. Areas of high potential in the South West include Swansea, Haverfordwest, Carmarthen, Llandeilo, Solva and St. Davids

  • Better consumer awareness of where food comes from. We would like more work to be done alongside producers to create and promote local brands (such as Puffin Produce). This help to raise awareness of this issue with the public and may well provide economic benefits

  • Realising the true value of the timber in forests by associating it with well-being benefits.  Not forgetting the valuable ecosystems it provides as well as fostering new markets for its use when felled.  Develop new local timber outlets and markets to help the transition towards a more circular economy

  • Development of any sustainable land management scheme should support woodland management, restoration and creation whilst bringing existing woodlands into better management

You told us that best practices of sustainable land management need to be shared across our area. This includes:

  • Ensuring that biodiversity and ecosystems resilience (able to cope with pressures) is embedded as part of food and fibre production is essential. A key message is that land managers are best placed to determine how to achieve this

  • Diversifying the methods of food and timber production such as regenerative agriculture (how we look after the soil), varieties of grassland to graze on, and horticulture of all types whilst maintaining family farms

  • Incentivising farm woodlands and trees in the appropriate place whilst appreciating a variety of habitats. Retain and improve the diversity of woodlands by aiming for a mixed age structure, diversity of species, retention of deadwood and a variety of habitats

  • A minority of land managers are responsible for the majority of pollution incidents. We need to work with them to ensure pollutants are managed effectively.

  • Engaging research and business sectors on developing and implementing new technological solutions, for example developing end markets for agricultural waste

You told us that we should give greater attention to hedges and edges

  • To increase diversity we need to change the way we manage hedgerows, for example by avoiding annual trimming

  • If we encourage and preserve traditional hedge laying techniques we can help connect people to this valuable landscape feature

  • By increasing the amount of vegetation between watercourses and fields (targeted for sediment reduction) we can maximise the benefits

  • Work with farmers and land managers on flexible management programmes, learning and applying from past initiatives, such as the Coed Cymru scheme at Pontbren 

You told us that uplands and commons should be actively managed

  • Commons across Wales and within South West are diverse, but lack active management in certain areas. Over and under grazing are key issues. Further information on this is available in the Pembrokeshire Commons: Successional Health Check

  • Government agencies need to work with ‘commons associations’ and grazing organisations to promote and incentivise active grazing for biodiversity, carbon storage, wildfire management and retain the historical value

  • There is a lack of legislative flexibility (e.g. fencing or commons with no associated rights) which should be addressed using innovative solutions (such as ‘fenceless fencing’) and our experimental powers

Mountain bikers navigating through fog

You told us that the public sector should lead by example in managing its estate for biodiversity

  • This should involve local communities in both decision-making and delivery. ‘Flagship’ species can be a cause to rally support around wider biodiversity and we should consider, where appropriate,  targeted re-introduction – such as the Mid Wales Red Squirrel project

  • Public sector bodies should work together, share ‘best practice’ and encourage people to become more involved with projects

Case studies: Find out more about how communities can connect with their food or about how a Welsh Government Woodland is being managed for multiple benefits.

Who have we worked with to date?

In developing this Area Statement our aim has been to work collaboratively and represent the views and ideas from all stakeholders in South West Wales. Our goal has been to involve you in helping identify the key risks that we all face in managing our natural resources sustainably, as well as the opportunities.

This has required a different way of working.

We have undertaken a wide range of engagement activities, including targeted planning workshops with selected experts to larger multi-sectoral workshops. The latter have been well attended and included elected representatives, community groups, eNGOs, as well as officials from the public sector. We’ve also ensured that representative groups (such as farming unions, angling associations etc) have been included. The business sector has mainly been represented by larger industry.

As many different sectors have been included as possible to capture the widest range of views and expertise. 

Internally we have been working closely with our colleagues developing the South Central Wales, Marine and Mid Wales Area Statements to ensure that actions link up where appropriate. In particular, the coastal zone and marine environment are very important for us in South West Wales and we recognise that what happens on land often impacts the sea and vice versa.

What are the next steps?

We need your continued support to progress the opportunities and actions we set out earlier and in this section. We will be continuing our conversations with you on how best to take this forward – both in terms of delivery and in refining the detail where further work is needed; this is likely to involve more focussed work on specific themes or around particular geographical areas (e.g. the opportunity catchments).

So, we encourage all stakeholders, existing and new, to get involved - further details on how to do this are in the next section.

There are clear areas which you told us were important to improve land management whilst tackling the climate and nature emergency. These include payments for sustainably managing land, connecting communities to their food and timber, management of common land, and taking a catchment-based approach.

Next Steps:

Management of Welsh Government Woodland Estate (WGWE) and National Nature Reserves (NNR)

  • We will act as exemplar in Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) and look to derive the maximum benefits for people and wildlife from the WGWE and NRW NNRs

  • We will continue to collaborate with our partners to manage and enhance the WGWE in accordance with the Woodlands for Wales Strategy and through our accreditation under the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme  (including new woodland creation). This will help sustain a thriving forestry sector, provide social and community benefits, as well as supporting healthy and diverse species and habitats

  • We will explore opportunities to build on our work to manage our National Nature Reserves to build ecosystem resilience and restore their features to good condition, including working with partners to secure funding

Support the development of any future sustainable land management scheme in Wales

  • At a national level we will work with Welsh Government (WG), farmers and land managers on the design of any sustainable land management payment schemes

  • Promote flexible payments for outcomes that consider local circumstances. The unique circumstances of areas such as commons as well as the benefits that can be derived from hedges and edges need to be adequately accounted for in any future scheme

  • Work with producers and communities to promote local food chains.  Creating sustainable models of local food production (such as producer cooperatives and community agriculture schemes)

Support the sustainable management of our common land

  • We will work with commons associations, grazing organisations and biodiversity experts on innovative approaches (e.g. Meithrin Mynydd Partnership) and pursue the use of experimental powers around several common land blocks. Areas suggested include (but are not limited to) the Gower commons, Mynydd y Gwair, Cefn Gwrhyd and the smaller Pembrokeshire commons

  • We will establish what is a sustainable level of grazing on the most ‘at risk’ commons

Promote a whole catchment approach to water management

  • We will take a catchment-based approach to help deliver multiple benefits, working with land managers, business, environmental Non Governmental Organisations, the public sector and communities  

  • There will be a focus on Opportunity Catchments (Cleddau/Milford Haven, Swansea Bay rivers and the Teifi) , working with natural processes (e.g natural flood management and river restoration) as well as addressing barriers to improve the movement of fish

  • Additionally we will be delivering interventions that reduce point source and slurry pollution, such as Taclo’r Tywi, the WG funded dairy project, Building Resilience In Catchments, Blue Flag farming and visiting high risk farms

How do we think the areas of work we’ve proposed will help deliver Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR)?

We need to ensure that our land management practices work with nature to deliver multiple benefits. Farmers, land managers and communities need to be appropriately supported and enabled to deliver these benefits as the custodians of our land.

In delivering any actions we will take an integrated and collaborative approach, reflecting the principles of SMNR and incorporating the five ‘ways of working’ from the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

A vision for South West Wales:

  • Farmers and land managers are fully enabled to incorporate environmentally sensitive practices as part of long-term sustainable businesses which can be passed onto future generations

  • Communities are more connected to the land and appropriately valuing local produce and timber

  • Clean and healthy natural resources are appropriately valued by all in their own right as well as for the benefits they provide

  • We have a thriving community that is enabled to manage our biodiverse uplands

  • The public sector leads by example in managing land, with biodiversity at the heart of decision-making

How can people get involved?

This theme is only the beginning of the journey as we work with people to improve the management of South West Wales’ natural resources. If you would like to be part of this process, please get in touch with us using the form below. Alternatively, please email us direct at: Southwest.as@cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk

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