Introduction to South West Area Statement
Welcome to the South West Wales Area Statement....
These Area Statements summarise discussions from the last couple of years. We are continuing engagement on Area Statements and are adapting our plans for future events and workshops due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please use the feedback boxes on each Area Statement page to find out more.
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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:
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.
Image by Daron Herbert
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.email@example.com