Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma
Farming in Wales is at its core and farmers feel a strong connection to the land, taking pleasure from the nature that calls it their home. Whether this be the haunting call of the curlew, the radiance of the yellowhammer or the hum of the springtime hawthorn hedge. For centuries, the traditional and mixed farming systems in Wales have provided habitats for a wide range of species. Sadly though, these iconic farmland sights and sounds are disappearing, alongside farming itself.
Driven by a need to survive within the industry, farmers have often felt and still feel their only option to succeed is to farm more intensively and in some cases, failure to do so makes farming nonviable. This intensification driven by unfit policies and inadequate environmental schemes has reduced the diversity of Wales’s agricultural industry, ousting more traditional farming, reducing the quality of agricultural land and resilience, as well as removing habitat that species rely upon for their survival. In Wales, none of our ecosystems are resilient and in June 2021, Welsh Government declared a Nature Emergency; these are labels no one wants Wales to bear. So it must be made very clear at this critical time in Welsh farming that farmers are not the enemy in nature’s decline but do have a large part to play in its restoration.
Future of farming in Wales
2022 saw the beginning of a new era to the farming system in Wales through the publication of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and Agriculture Bill. The new scheme and bill are based upon farming delivering four Sustainable Land Management (SLM) objectives:
We have this one opportunity to ensure farmers are paid to look after the very building blocks they need to produce food sustainably. We must ensure the SFS and Agriculture Bill delivers now and for the future.
The SFS will phase out the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) over five years from the beginning of 2025 and will pay farmers for positive environmental outcomes. Given the precarious state of Welsh nature and ecosystems, it has been reassuring to see that biodiversity has its own space within the SFS and is not considered solely as a byproduct of other environmental outcomes. But, failure to implement these environmental requirements successfully through both the SFS and the Agriculture Bill, ensuring that farmers are engaged and enabled to deliver these required actions, we will see further degradation to ecosystem resilience in Wales.
In light of global pressures seen over the past two and a half years through the fear of pandemics and conflict, farming in Wales must be more resilient than ever and it is now recognised that resilient ecosystems underpin sustainable food production and provide vital infrastructure for farm businesses. Policies and schemes must enable Welsh farmers to move away from intensive agriculture in order to aid the restoration of nature and ecosystem resilience, to ensure we can produce food for future generations and provide wider environmental benefits to society.
Right now in Wales, there are farmers doing just this, through nature friendly farming and have seen the benefits this type of farming can bring to their on farm resilience and business.
Earlier this year a group of these Welsh farmers, worked with RSPB Cymru to help demonstrate that habitats and wildlife can thrive within a diversity of farming systems, across the country. The farmers assessed their farmland, based upon the Fair to Nature standard and then shared their findings with us. The standard seeks to help farmers incorporate and manage a range of wildlife habitats on their farms to help maintain and restore nature alongside food production. These farmers were able to show that they all have important habitats, including flower rich permanent pasture, thriving riparian buffers, valuable arable habitats and iconic wood pasture. From this RSPB Cymru have developed a nature standard for Wales, which we propose should be incorporated into the SFS so that it helps all farmers work towards a positive future for the environment and farming.
We will continue to use this work to illustrate that Welsh farms can contain a variety of habitats across the farming systems whilst producing food successfully and sustainably, that is overall positive for nature, people and climate.
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