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Stackyard News Oct 05

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Call for enquiry as Cherished Uplands face hard choices

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The role of the private land manager is paramount says CLA Wales

The authors of the report 'Cherished Uplands', commissioned by the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society to mark its 250th anniversary, have called upon the Welsh Assembly Government to launch an inquiry into the future of the hills and uplands. They also want to promote further debate with a major conference, organised to bring together specialist expertise and user and producer interests.

Professors Peter Midmore and Richard Moore-Colyer of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, found that some 'hard choices' had to be made if the future of the Upland areas with their valued contribution to Wales's national quality of life is to be secured. The hills and uplands, they argue, are 'at a tipping point'. The effect of the Single Farm Payment is uncertain and there are many more political, economic, and global threats.

The report traces the development of the uplands from the mid 1700s which is when the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society was set up. And it offers two possible outcomes, depending on policy. The one is relatively benign, but urgent action is needed to avoid the other, where land abandonment and environmental degradation are widespread.

The study drew on case histories of individual hill and upland farms to help form its conclusions. These are that the Uplands play a pivotal role in terms of culture, recreation, environment, and national identity, and that this outweighs the agricultural potential.

The status quo is not an option, so in order to maintain that role, continued and even expanded support is vital, returns from the market will be critical, and improved public confidence in, and affinity towards, agriculture is needed.

The main recommendations are that:

A minimum level of production is required, in terms of keeping an appropriate mix of sheep and cattle on upland farms, under expanded and retargeted agri-environment schemes.

Agri-environment schemes should involve and utilise the valuable knowledge within the farming community. Local groups representing farmers and other key stakeholders would have the opportunity to engage in collaborative marketing, promotions, and integrated planning of tourism and leisure use developments.

Community managed 'wild' areas should be established for public benefit, where there is a selective and voluntary withdrawal of agriculture.

There should be an honest appraisal of the way in which National Park planning powers limit or obstruct development. And there needs to be fundamental reform which recognises the interaction between sustainable development and landscape conservation.

The Welsh Assembly Government should promote further debate, through a major conference, and the National Assembly's Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee should launch an inquiry into the future of the hills and uplands.

Brecknockshire Agricultural Society President, William Legge-Bourke, said he hoped the report would concentrate the minds of government, economists, and conservationists. He wanted the study to have relevance further afield to both England and Scotland as well as parts of continental Europe.

"We all have responsibilities in recognising that farming is the vital management tool for preserving the heritage and long term environmental integrity of the hills and uplands which cover so much of the Welsh landscape", he added.

Mr Legge-Bourke said it was appropriate in the 250th Anniversary of the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society to commission a serious study of the likely problems and opportunities for the uplands. It continued a tradition begun in the earliest days of the society's history of trying to educate and encourage innovation and excellence within agriculture.

The report has been produced by the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society with the help of the Institute of Welsh Affairs. There has been financial and other support from the Welsh Development Agency, as well as from the Brecon Beacons National Park and the NatWest.

link Future Not So Perfect For Uplands Without Help

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