View across pasture to heather moorland

Wales

Here are just a few examples of farmers in Wales doing their bit for nature.

Alan Morgan

Alan’s farm in Monmouth is a haven for the rare silver-washed fritillary and clouded yellow butterflies.

He also has flocks of seed-eating birds such as linnet and yellowhammer and rare plants such as meadow saffron, greater butterfly orchid and herb paris.

The farm also has a variety of habitats managed  to benefit wildlife including restored hay meadows, a woodland that is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with ancient hazel coppice and dormice, and 15 ponds which support frogs, toads and all three species of newt, including the rare great crested newt.

Alan and his family have farmed the land at Gadr Farm for nearly 40 years, and in November 2000 Alan entered the Welsh Assembly Government’s agri-environment scheme Tir Gofal.

Over the years, Alan has become more and more interested in managing the farm to benefit wildlife, particularly the SSSI woodland area and carries out all of the traditional hazel coppicing himself.

Alan Morgan

Gethin Owen

Travel the coast of North Wales and you’ll find Nant-yr-Efail, a small farm tucked into the hills just outside Betws-yn-Rhos near Abergelle.

The lowland mixed farm was the 2011 Welsh Nature of Farming Award winner.

The farm, organic since 2008, is owned by Richard Owen and run with his son, Gethin. Being organic and entering the Welsh agri-environment scheme, Tir Gofal, benefits both the business and the wildlife on the farm.

Ultimately, it has been Gethin’s passion for farmland wildlife, together with good business sense, that has seen these schemes come to fruition.

Nant-yr-Efail boasts a variety of habitats, both in the fields and around the boundaries.

While 800m of the hedges have been restored through Tir Gofal, the remaining hedgerows across the farm have been excellently managed – creating a network of outstanding hedges, ditches and margin combinations. Some of these are very good for wildflowers, whilst others are very scrubby with tussocky grass margins. 

Big benefits

Until recently the whole farm was improved grassland, and had been for at least 30 years.

It is now a mixed farm with arable crops, including spring-sown cereals, winter stubbles, cereal and legume mixes, brassicas, potatoes and some other vegetables.

The introduction of arable cropping has brought big benefits for seed-eating farmland birds, with large flocks of mixed finches and skylarks on the stubble fields in winter.

Summer 2012 saw the farm’s first ever tree sparrow and Gethin is hopeful of attracting yellowhammers with his mix of arable farming and ideal hedgerow and scrub management.

Abundant arables

Gethin believes the arable weeds, or as he describes them, "non-cropable elements", have little impact on his crop yields.

He instigated re-sowing combined seed on his farm, saving money on organic seed, but also ensuring that local arable plants eg fumitories, dead-nettles, sun spurges are re-sown along with the cereals. This means arable plants are as abundant in the centre of the crops as at the edges and Gethin hand pulls any serious weed threat such as convolvulus.

Uncountable

The remaining grasslands are now being reverted from intensively managed pastures into species-rich grasslands – with signs of an already increasing diversity of grass, flower and fungi species.

The recently planted scrubby woodland is alive with various warblers and bullfinches, and the patches of scrub and scrubby hedges support almost uncountable numbers of whitethroats during summer.

Gareth Roberts

There's nothing like a poacher turned gamekeeper, and I suppose I fit into that category.

My misspent youth was filled with catching newts, sticklebacks, and grasshoppers. But it’s struck me that I would be hard pressed to find many of these things that I took completely for granted today and it’s up to me, and others like me, to do something about it. I would hasten to add that I do get things wrong at times, through lack of time, effort, money, the weather and myriad other excuses, but I do try.

Since taking on the tenancy of Cwrt Farm 10 years ago, we have double fenced at least a couple of miles of earth banks and planted thousands of hedging trees. On the cliff areas of the farm we fence on top of the banks so that the choughs can feed on the close cropped tops.

We have grown a minimum of 20 acres of unsprayed spring cereals, that are then left as stubble over winter every year to benefit the birds as well as harvesting the grant aid offered through the ESA scheme and latterly the Tir Gofal scheme.

All the cereals are rolled in winter and fed to the animals with the result that you have to proceed with caution in the farm shed for fear of being mobbed by the sparrows, collared doves, finches and many others that winter off the fat of the land around the yard.

Conservation will not succeed on its own, nor should farming be encouraged to proceed as dictated by successive governments to churn out cheap food at any cost.

We have to find a middle road where conservation becomes an integral part of our production systems and is recognised for what it is, our gift to the next generation, but it does not come for free.

Hywel Williams

I have been farming here at Hafoty Gwyn in the uplands of central north Wales all my life. As long as I can remember, there have been lapwings here on the farm.

This farm wouldn't be complete without the lapwings calling and displaying in spring and summer and it's been a natural thing to manage the farm to ensure that these birds can breed here.

I keep 27 suckler cows and 640 sheep but the wildlife and the birds on the farm are important to me too, though my favourites are the lapwings, curlews and skylarks.

Though I have always encouraged the lapwings, more recently I have been working closely with the RSPB and Snowdonia National Park Authority to try to increase the numbers on the farm.

There are a few fields of bog and rushy pasture on the farm where the lapwings prefer to nest. This area of the farm is also great for skylark and in the longer areas, curlews and snipe. An important part of the management is adjusting the grazing to get the nesting habitat right for lapwings in spring.

In this environment, I can't keep cattle out all year, but where possible I adjust the grazing depending on how the vegetation is growing, to get it short enough by the time the lapwings will be nesting. The rush, as in any damp area, tends to encroach and so I top this in autumn and again in January if I can. I notice that lapwings often nest here, on the stumps of the cut rush, or in hoof-marked areas.

I also use a chain harrow to spread the muck from the cattle and rake over the surface, which helps provide more good feeding areas for the lapwings before they nest. This year I used a mini digger to create some scrapes, with mixed success, but hope to improve on these to provide more feeding areas for chicks and adults. Crows, magpies and foxes can all eat eggs or chicks, so we do control these using legal, humane methods.

In 2004 I was very proud to win the RSPB's Operation Lapwing Award for Wales, but this doesn't mean my job is over – I'll have to keep doing my bit to make sure lapwings always have a place at Hafoty Gwyn.