AS the Bro Cors Caron SMS project comes to an end, we were fortunate to have a visit to Cruglas Farm from the Welsh Government’s Director for Rural Affairs, Gian Marco Currado. Responsible for the team devising the Sustainable Farming Scheme (or SFS, the future Welsh agri-environment scheme due in 2025), Mr Currado had visited the project area to learn more about the work of Terry Mills at Cruglas Farm and of the wider Bro Cors Caron Farmer Cluster; the research of the GWCT relating to sustainable land management; and to hear from the Welsh farmers involved with the project.
The day started with a tour around Cruglas Farm, a beef and sheep farm owned by Terry Mills who has spent 30 years creating a haven for wildlife. The habitat creation includes the establishment of extensive hedgerows and wooded areas across the farm, with 42 different tree species.
A key element of the future SFS is tree planting, which has resulted in numerous discussions surrounding how tree planting could be implemented through the scheme to ensure that tree cover increases in Wales, but without impeding food productivity and the profitability of Welsh farms. GWCT Wales have, along with most farmers in Wales, expressed reservations about a blanket approach and highlighted several measures that could be adopted to ensure a more proportionate approach and potentially increase the scheme uptake amongst the farming community. GWCT would like at least some hedges be included in the tree planting quota and with GWCT’s recently developed hedgerow carbon code we can measure the carbon stored within each hedgerow. We would like to see trees planted in the right place, so they don’t remove productive land from food production; don’t disadvantage nature while meeting the desired outcome of continuous suitable woodland. GWCT would also like to see the multiple benefits of hedgerows for wildlife and livestock farming, including biosecurity, and their ability to store carbon.
In addition to habitat creation, management practices traditionally related to game management that Terry uses were discussed. Terry Mills carries out predation management and overwinter supplementary feeding on Cruglas, and these practices have now been implemented on a wider scale across the Bro Cors Caron Farmer Cluster within the SMS scheme. We were able to explain these measures on the tour around Cruglas, highlighting the research conducted by the GWCT at the Allerton Project showing the importance of these management practices for threatened farmland species and their potential for inclusion in the new SFS.
Farmers in the Bro Cors Caron Farmer Cluster discussed sustainable land management, where profitable food production, functioning ecosystem services and thriving local wildlife can all co-exist, alongside strong rural communities and a resilient Welsh language. The achievement of these goals requires cooperation and trust between Welsh Government and farmers and a flexible and adaptable agri-environment scheme which values and takes into account the knowledge of Working Conservationists on the ground.