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‘I used to do lots of cultivating, reseeding, and fertilising. This impacts wild plant species and soil health, and releases greenhouse gases. I also realised that they were only short-term fixes and never really paid for the cost of the stress and inputs. Often as a farmer you feel you need to be producing at all costs, but financially, the cost of bought-in inputs has increased way past them being affordable.

 

Why I changed the way I farmed

I changed the system five years ago, after a conversation with a Civil Servant who said that, in the future, farmers would be paid for more nature friendly farming. The transition was challenging, both financially and mentally: the peer pressure to keep farming conventionally was huge.

Post-war the mindset was all about production, and tenant farmers would have lost their farms if they didn’t meet demands. This doctrine has influenced generations of farmers since. It’s meant we’ve lost the connection between how and why we produce the food, and we sometimes forget the benefits of wildlife within the farm system. 

 

What sustainable farming methods mean for wild plants

Hywel Morgan standing by a pond with trees behind him

Making the change has meant a large reduction in costs and I can see – and enjoy – the benefits of working with nature.

I try to keep everything simple. I have cut out chemicals and fertilisers. This helps to reduce soil fertility and then encourages the growth of wildflowers and other grasslands plants that need low nutrient levels. I’ve seen many more Birds-foot Trefoil, Yellow Rattle, Yarrow, and Plantain since making the change. I’ve also got loads of different species of waxcap in my fields now, some are even of regional importance.

My hedges are now allowed to grow taller and thicker, and only trimmed every three years. I have also planted a lot of trees and hedging over the last few years and created large pond.

Farming livestock right can benefit biodiversity

Plants need recovery time after grazing so they can flourish. To allow this to happen I now do mob grazing, which is moving cattle in short bursts of high intensity grazing, and bale grazing, which is allowing livestock to feed off a whole, intact bale of hay. I have cut out bought-in feed apart for some hay, and focus on producing high quality, pasture-fed livestock.

I needed a better balance between grazing types, because sheep and cows graze in different ways, so reduced sheep and increased cattle numbers. Without the right management, sheep will nibble out pretty much everything, cattle graze in a less destructive way and are generally better for biodiversity. I’m always working to find out what balance is right for my land.

Nature friendly farming should just be ‘farming’

 

Government policy should reward smaller family nature friendly farms – it’s a reward for doing good things that benefit all of us. Banks and supermarkets need to support this move too as healthy nutritious food is part of the solution for climate, environment and peoples’ health. More farmer-to-farmer advice and support regarding regenerative agriculture is also needed to move to a sustainable future.

Achieving food security means eating locally and seasonally and certainly, we can’t have a stable food system when nature is in decline. I believe nature friendly farming should just be called “farming” and anything else should be called industrial or chemical farming.’

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What’s new in Plantlife’s agricultural work

Many of our upland and lowland landscapes in Wales are dominated by green fields. In fact, 83% of our farmed landscape is managed as permanent grassland or for rough grazing. Our future agri-environment schemes will be a vital part of paving the way to restoring these landscapes. As a result, Plantlife have been working hard on our response to the Welsh Agricultural Bill and the Sustainable Farming Scheme Proposals for 2025. 

Challenges faced by Permanent Grasslands in Wales 

Permanent grasslands (those not regularly ploughed or reseeded) are often overlooked in climate change mitigation. However, they are a key nature-based solution to the challenges we face. One reason they get so overlooked is a lack of collective knowledge about grassland soil carbon.  They are also side-lined by an emphasis on tree planting and peatland restoration in policy. Effective management of permanent grassland is at the heart of Wales’ livestock production and the wider farming economy. We need it to be at the heart of addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis as well. 

Benefits of permanent grasslands 

Grasslands are incredible habitats, which can sequester and store carbon, and improve biodiversity. They provide natural flood defences, enhance our health and wellbeing, lock up pollutants. Importantly, they also sustain an irreplaceable part of Wales’ cultural heritage.

Plantlife’s work in permanent grasslands in Wales

At Plantlife, we would like to see greater recognition for the multiple benefits these grasslands can provide. We are asking Government to support farmers and land managers to adapt their farming practices. Also, for the government to assist farms to restore and maintain species-rich grassland. Unfortunately, in the past, grassland restoration has seen lower payment rates compared to, for example, the support for arable farms. The new scheme needs to be economically viable for all farmers to enter. It will be important that there is good advice for farmers and land managers to access, apply and manage these schemes. 

Working with local farmers around Cae Blaen-dyffryn nature reserve 

As well as putting pressure on Welsh Government to do the best it can for our farmed environment, we are also working towards restoring agricultural grasslands ourselves. 

Hywel Morgan has recently joined the Plantlife Cymru team as our Agricultural Advisor. He will be working in the landscape around our Cae Blaen-dyffryn nature reserve, near Lampeter. He is speaking to local farmers and seeking to understand where the most mutually beneficial and sustainable actions for grassland conservation lie.  

We hope that over time, we can work a lot more with this farming community. Plantlife will be seeking funds for the grassland restoration based on opportunities we identify. Hywel’s brings personal knowledge of farming and will gain local insight from speaking to the farming community. This will help us to advocate for grassland restoration solutions that have the best chance of success. 

Stay tuned to our blog and sign up to our newsletter; Hywel might share his insight what he learnt from talking to the local farming community.