Cattle, carbon and conservation

Our State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR2020) is a milestone publication that aims to inform the steps that we all need to take in our endeavour to defend our environment in Wales.  It illustrates some of the key challenges, priorities and opportunities for the sustainable management of natural resources and has at its heart the ambition to bridge the gap between where we currently are and where we need to be. 

In the first in our series of blogs to help bring SoNaRR to life, we hear from Geraint Davies, an NRW Board member that farms at Fedw Arian near Bala.

Cattle, carbon and conservation

“A recent Hybu Cig Cymru report, the Welsh Way, suggests that upland farms could play an important part in a sustainable, low-emissions system of food production.  It suggests that using the uplands to rear livestock can deliver carbon sequestration in soils, as well as improving soil health and biodiversity.  

“And this chimes with SoNaRR, where NRW sets out how Wales could deliver environmental change through transforming the systems we all use to support our lifestyles, including redesigning the food system. This doesn’t mean changing wholescale how we farm in Wales now, but making changes so that we can promote agricultural practises that work hand in hand with nature.

“And in this blog I wanted to explore how the way we farm at Fedw Arian allows us to rear livestock whilst managing the environmental impacts on the land.

Introducing cattle

“Soils are the foundation to any farm. By managing the soil well, and introducing mixed grazing, we’ve seen biodiversity thrive too.

“We’re putting fewer sheep out to graze on the hill early in the year. Lambs are grazed on rotation on the most productive land, on fast growing modern grasses, to encourage curlew to nest. The concentration of stock in these strips causes the build-up of dung which attracts flies and with them swallows and swifts.

“And some of the sheep on the hills have been replaces with cattle. This has helped restore grassland habitats and to regenerate soils too, and I’m always excited to see more golden plover nesting on the mountains because of these changes.

All the little things add up

“Whilst changing livestock systems is significant, not everything has to be so major. We’re restoring an area of ffridd, which will lead to slower run-off of water down the hill in winter.

“14 kilometres of hedgerows have been created in the past 10 years and are good for wildlife and productivity. Better hedges provide shelter for stock, keeping them cool in summer and warmer in winter, which aids productivity and fuller hedges provide berries and fruits for the birds, and thistles in corners for birds like goldfinches. This has created wildlife corridors joining up areas of ancient woodland.

“I’ve also created six ponds in unproductive corners which provide water to stock in the summer when previously water would have run out. Now, kingfishers and dippers use them too.

Profitable for nature… and for the farmer

“Like every livestock farmer, my main aim is to produce top quality food. Creating a premium product means that I can sell my meat into a premium market - to restaurants and supermarkets and it also exported to the Middle East and Far East.

“In a conversation with Gareth Wyn Jones who farms on the Carneddau in North Wales recently he said it clearly:

""Cheap food comes at a cost, either to the environment, to people’s health or to animal’s welfare.

"We need a change in our food culture, with seasonal food not just being valued on price but on quality. That would leverage change and see farmers rewarded with a fair price for their product and their management of the environment.”"

“If one good thing comes from the pandemic is the surge in interest from people wanting to know more about their food, its traceability and we as farmers now need to help consumers see the benefits of nature friendly production practices and be willing to pay more for a healthy product produced in a way which keeps the environment healthy as well.”

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