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Graziers aim to reverse habitat management decline on Welsh common land

FARMERS with grazing rights to thousands of acres of common land in mid Wales have joined forces for a major project to remove bracken, improve public access and encourage wildlife.

Three grazing associations – Llanfihangel-bryn-Pabuan, Llysdinam and Llanwrthwl – came together as one to bid for funding from the Sustainable Management Scheme (SMS), administered by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 -2020 and funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

The SMS provides financial support for a range of activities to manage natural resources and, in so doing, contributes to the wellbeing of rural communities.

The bid by the grazing associations, made under the name of Three Parishes, was successful at the Expression of Interest (EOI) stage and has now applied for a grant of £695,300.

The three-year project, which will include measures to reintroduce cattle onto the commons and rebuild traditional stone walls, was one of nine projects that were successful in the EOI round.

Beef and sheep farmer Frances Gwillim, a non-active grazier, said that if the bid was successful, the benefits would extend much further than direct benefits to the graziers such as restoring wildlife habitats and employment creation.

It will attract more people to the hills because access will be improved and tracks and walls repaired and, with improved habitats, more breeds of birds will nest there, said Mrs Gwillim, of The Parc, Llanafan Fawr, near Builth Wells. There are plans to train people in new skills including stone walling and to develop a trial to investigate the hefting of hardy cattle onto the commons for habitat management.

Bracken encroachment is a major problem on the 2500 hectares of common land included in the funding application.

It is a risk to sheep health because it harbours ticks which infect flocks and cause illnesses such as louping ill and tick borne fever, and also threatens human health through Lyme disease.

Aside from the health issues, it encroaches on public access, smothers plants and historic features and is unsuitable habitat for the many the species of wild bird that live on the common. By managing the bracken, the project will improve wildlife diversity by supporting several species including the golden plover, curlew and skylark.

The graziers and the wider community wanted to take control of the situation before it became unmanageable; the project will form part of the sustainable management planned for the area.

Helen Barnes helped to instigate the project as one of 15 Farming Connect SMS facilitators in Wales.

With her help and following meetings with graziers, local people and other stakeholders, Three Parishes submitted an Expression of Interest.

The application set out plans to use aerial spraying, bruising and weep wiping techniques to remove the bracken. Cattle would be reintroduced to help prevent the bracken returning by grazing.

“Our hills all join so it made sense to apply as one,’’ said Mrs Gwillim.

“We were very lucky to have the support of Helen and also Nick Myhill, who is a non-active grazier on one of the commons and also played a key part in the application.’’

Rights to graze the commons is linked to individual farms – there are 80 graziers on Llanfihangel-bryn-Pabuan, Llysdinam and Llanwrthwl commons although only 15 actively graze this land.

The project will also apply to a fourth common, Carngafallt at Llanwrthwl, which was included in the application.

Ms Barnes said Three Parishes would be represented at an open day at Talley on April 24th where there will be an opportunity to learn more about applying for SMS support.

The event will start at 10.00am at The Plough, Rhosmaen, Llandeilo.

“For further information regarding the open day, please visit https://wales.business-events.org.uk/en/events/sustainable-management-scheme-sms-open-day/ or contact Farming Connect on 08456 000813,’’ said Ms Barnes.

The 5th window to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) for the SMS scheme will be open between May 21st and August 6th. Anyone interested in working with a Farming Connect facilitator should visit the Farming Connect website for further information.

The Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

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